Curated Insights 2018.04.01

Amazon is already reshaping health care

All three of the biggest U.S. PBMs will be tied to three of the country’s biggest insurers. CVS, Express Scripts, and UnitedHealth process more than 70 percent of all U.S. prescriptions. Post-merger, three companies will insure more than 90 million people in some capacity, process more than 3.5 billion prescription claims, and generate more than $500 billion in revenue.

The merging companies have claimed huge cost savings will flow to consumers from these deals, but I’m skeptical. Research suggests costs can actually end up rising in some cases of health-care consolidation. Less competition means more pricing power for the companies that remain. Markets with more insurers have lower premiums, while prices rise when hospitals buy physician groups. Though these are vertical deals, they will add to the market power of major players in already heavily consolidated industries, which seems like a recipe for monopolistic behavior.

Regulation could protect Facebook, not punish it

If the government instituted new rules for tech platforms collecting persona information going forward, it could effectively lock in Facebook’s lead in the data race. If it becomes more cumbersome to gather this kind of data, no competitor might ever amass an index of psychographic profiles and social graphs able to rival Facebook’s.

We’ve already seen that first-time download rates aren’t plummeting for Facebook, its App Store ranking has actually increased since the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, and blue chip advertisers aren’t bailing, according to BuzzFeed. But Facebook relies on the perception of its benevolent mission to recruit top talent in Silicon Valley and beyond.


Facebook knows literally everything about you

But my favorite thing is probably peer-to-peer payments. In some countries, you can pay back your friends using Messenger. It’s free! You just have to add your card to the app. It turns out that Facebook also buys data about your offline purchases. The next time you pay for a burrito with your credit card, Facebook will learn about this transaction and match this credit card number with the one you added in Messenger. In other words, Messenger is a great Trojan horse designed to learn everything about you.

There’s one last hope. And that hope is GDPR. Many of the misleading things that are currently happening at Facebook will have to change. You can’t force people to opt in like in Messenger. Data collection should be minimized to essential features. And Facebook will have to explain why it needs all this data to its users. If Facebook doesn’t comply, the company will have to pay up to 4 percent of its global annual turnover. But that doesn’t stop you from actively reclaiming your online privacy right now.


How Facebook helps shady advertisers pollute the internet

Those who were caught and banned found that this was only a minor setback—they just opened new Facebook accounts under different names. Some affiliates would buy clean profiles from “farmers,” spending as much as $1,000 per. Others would rent accounts from strangers or cut deals with underhanded advertising agencies to find other solutions.

Affiliates say Facebook has sent mixed signals over the years. Their accounts would get banned, but company salespeople would also come to their meetups and parties and encourage them to buy more ads. Two former Facebook employees who worked in the Toronto sales office said it was common knowledge there that some of their best clients were affiliates who used deception. Still, the sources said, salespeople were instructed to push them to spend more, and the rep who handled the dirtiest accounts had a quota of tens of millions of dollars per quarter.

How Alibaba and Tencent became Asia’s biggest dealmakers

The reach of Tencent and Alibaba in their home market dwarfs that of the big tech groups in the US. While the latter accounts for less than 5 per cent of all venture capital flows in their home market, Alibaba and Tencent account for 40-50 per cent of venture capital flows in mainland China, according to data from McKinsey.

The downside is that their new investors might have different agendas than simply the financial performance of the new companies. The risk is that Alibaba and Tencent might be willing to sacrifice their interests in the companies they back if their own goals shift.

But he worries that entrepreneurs might also be forced to prematurely choose sides in the rivalry between the competing ecosystems of one or the other internet giants in ways that can leave a young company exposed.


SoftBank Vision Fund CEO explains plan to build the biggest network of tech companies in the world

The fund aims to be the largest shareholder in 100 technology companies around the world after it has finished investing all of its money, he said. The goal is to create the biggest ecosystem of tech companies in the world.

Part of the strategy will include investments strategically moving operations beyond their home markets and into other countries, where they can be linked with other holdings in the fund, Misra said. The fund will actively push many of its investments to work with each other, creating a web of companies controlled, or heavily influenced, by SoftBank and its CEO Masayoshi Son, Misra said.

Dropbox and Box were never competitors

Vast majority of Dropbox’s combined business and consumer revenue of more than a $1 billion came from consumers. Dropbox has always offered an attractive consumer storage tool. “Dropbox is primarily a consumer company with 500 million users, [with] only about 300,000 teams using their business offering.” For now though, even with this business push, Pelz-Sharpe points out that most of Dropbox’s business customers are small teams of 3 or more people with a dash of larger implementations. “Nor are people building much on top of Dropbox in the way of business applications – it remains primarily a very efficient file sharing system,” he explained.

This in contrast to Box, which has been working primarily with large enterprise companies for years to solve much more complex problems around content. Aaron Levie from Box said he’s absolutely rooting for Dropbox, but they have always been going after different markets, since Box decide to go enterprise about two years into its existence. “We are fundamentally building two very different companies. Both are large markets. While there is no limit to the scale they could become, we have built a very different business around how do you serve [large companies] and deal with unstructured company data — and it’s a very different product set [from Dropbox],” Levie told TechCrunch.


Micron: You don’t know how big this memory stuff is, says Instinet

DRAM and NAND storage have become the choke point in system level performance across multiple applications; cloud vendors, for example, are boosting memory content to speed up performance. These cloud companies are very sophisticated about hardware architecture. Vendors are spending tremendous amounts of capital to reduce wait times in servers. This means maximizing the amount of memory around the processor and greater use of NAND flash.

Robots could replace surgeons in the battle against cancer

Moll says he focused on lung cancer for two reasons. It’s the deadliest cancer, killing 1.7 million people a year globally, according to the World Health Organization. (That’s double the next-highest total, for liver cancer.) And it’s the perfect proving ground, he says, for medical robots.

No medical regulator in the world has approved fully robotic surgery, so for now surgeons who sign up for Auris’s pilot program will drive the bot. The doctor guides the scope through the lung, starting in the trachea, with a video screen to help navigate. A camera view is on the screen’s left side, and a CT-scan-created map and turn-by-turn directions are on the right. Auris tracks the probe’s precise location, in part, by comparing data from the camera view to the 3D map, and by using an electromagnetic sensor that works a bit like a miniature GPS. The idea is to collect data after every surgery and feed it back into the navigation software, improving it over time.

Say goodbye to the information age: it’s all about reputation now

We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age’, we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today.

Curated Insights 2018.03.25

What’s next for humanity: Automation, new morality and a ‘global useless class’

“Time is accelerating,” Mr. Harari said. The long term may no longer be defined in centuries or millenniums — but in terms of 20 years. “It’s the first time in history when we’ll have no idea how human society will be like in a couple of decades,” he said.

“We’re in an unprecedented situation in history in the sense that nobody knows what the basics about how the world will look like in 20 or 30 years. Not just the basics of geopolitics but what the job market would look like, what kind of skills people will need, what family structures will look like, what gender relations will look like. This means that for the first time in history we have no idea what to teach in schools.”

Leaders and political parties are still stuck in the 20th century, in the ideological battles pitting the right against the left, capitalism versus socialism. They don’t even have realistic ideas of what the job market looks like in a mere two decades, Mr. Harari said, “because they can’t see.” “Instead of formulating meaningful visions for where humankind will be in 2050, they repackage nostalgic fantasies about the past,” he said.

Investing is hard

On April 1st 1976, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne founded Apple. Wayne drew the first Apple logo, wrote the three men’s original partnership agreement, and wrote the Apple 1 manual. Jobs and Wozniak each owned 45% and Wayne 10%. Two weeks later, he sold his 10% interest for $800. This 10% interest would be worth $90 billion today. He was closer than anyone to the visionaries of Apple, and he still sold.

The Cambridge Analytica scandal, in 3 paragraphs

In June 2014, a researcher named Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality-quiz app for Facebook. It was heavily influenced by a similar personality-quiz app made by the Psychometrics Centre, a Cambridge University laboratory where Kogan worked. About 270,000 people installed Kogan’s app on their Facebook account. But as with any Facebook developer at the time, Kogan could access data about those users or their friends. And when Kogan’s app asked for that data, it saved that information into a private database instead of immediately deleting it. Kogan provided that private database, containing information about 50 million Facebook users, to the voter-profiling company Cambridge Analytica. Cambridge Analytica used it to make 30 million “psychographic” profiles about voters.

Cambridge Analytica has significant ties to some of President Trump’s most prominent supporters and advisers. Rebekah Mercer, a Republican donor and a co-owner of Breitbart News, sits on the board of Cambridge Analytica. Her father, Robert Mercer, invested $15 million in Cambridge Analytica on the recommendation of his political adviser, Steve Bannon, according to the Times. On Monday, hidden-camera footage appeared to show Alexander Nix, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, offering to bribe and blackmail public officials around the world. If Nix did so, it would violate U.K. law. Cambridge Analytica suspended Nix on Tuesday.

Cambridge Analytica also used its “psychographic” tools to make targeted online ad buys for the Brexit “Leave” campaign, the 2016 presidential campaign of Ted Cruz, and the 2016 Trump campaign. If any British Cambridge Analytica employees without a green card worked on those two U.S. campaigns, they did so in violation of federal law.


Facebook and the endless string of worst-case scenarios

“I have more fear in my life that we aren’t going to maximize the opportunity that we have than that we mess something up” Zuckerberg said at a Facebook’s Social Good Forum event in November. Perhaps it’s time for that fear to shift more towards ‘what could go wrong’, not just for Zuck, but the leaders of all of today’s tech titans.

Most recently, Facebook has found its trust in app developers misplaced. For years it offered an API that allowed app makers to pull robust profile data on their users and somewhat limited info about their friends to make personalized products. But Facebook lacked strong enforcement mechanisms for its policy that prevented developers from sharing or selling that data to others. It’s quite likely that other developers have violated Facebook’s flimsy policies against storing, selling, or sharing user data they’ve collected, and more reports of misuse will emerge.


The Facebook brand

This episode is a perfect example: an unintended casualty of this weekend’s firestorm is the idea of data portability: I have argued that social networks like Facebook should make it trivial to export your network; it seems far more likely that most social networks will respond to this Cambridge Analytica scandal by locking down data even further. That may be good for privacy, but it’s not so good for competition. Everything is a trade-off.


Inside Apple’s secret plan to develop and build its own screens

Controlling MicroLED technology would help Apple stand out in a maturing smartphone market and outgun rivals like Samsung that have been able to tout superior screens. Ray Soneira, who runs screen tester DisplayMate Technologies, says bringing the design in-house is a “golden opportunity” for Apple. “Everyone can buy an OLED or LCD screen,” he says. “But Apple could own MicroLED.”

Creating MicroLED screens is extraordinarily complex. Depending on screen size, they can contain millions of individual pixels. Each has three sub-pixels: red, green and blue LEDs. Each of these tiny LEDs must be individually created and calibrated. Each piece comes from what is known as a “donor wafer” and then are mass-transferred to the MicroLED screen. Early in the process, Apple bought these wafers from third-party manufacturers like Epistar Corp. and Osram Licht AG but has since begun “growing” its own LEDs to make in-house donor wafers. The growing process is done inside a clean room at the Santa Clara facility.

The secretive company that pours America’s coffee

Keurig is offering distribution services to an increasingly broad network of outside brands through its Dr Pepper Snapple deal. It will also be able to sell its coffee, part of an armada of 125 beverage brands, to new customers. Peet’s distribution system is a regional one that doesn’t cover certain retailers such as convenience stores, popular stops for consumers who don’t want to wait in line at larger stores. Dr Pepper’s larger fleet will enable Peet’s ready-to-drink beverages to get into more stores.

Drake and Fortnite create a “crossing the chasm” moment for gaming

While the gaming market is large, generating $100 billion in revenue globally, it reaches relatively few people compared to the music market. Interestingly, music touches almost everyone on earth but generates only $16 billion in revenue per year.

Twitch is the other beneficiary, of course. Twitch is cementing its position as a modern-day ESPN with 15 million daily viewers who spend on average almost two hours per day on the platform.


Oasis hedge fund boss bets on Japan’s professional gaming scene

Strict anti-gambling laws had prevented paid competitions for years, but the industry’s move this month to issue professional gamer licenses is allowing them to sidestep the regulations. Fischer says that lays the groundwork for publishers to grow audiences, sell more games and begin generating new revenue from broadcasting rights and advertising.

Worldwide esports revenue, including media rights, advertising, ticket sales and merchandising, will reach about $5 billion annually by 2020, almost as much as the world’s biggest soccer league today, according to market researcher Activate. The total audience for competitive gaming will grow to 557 million people by 2021 from 380 million this year, according to researcher Newzoo.


Why watch other people play video games? What you need to know about esports

Competitive video game playing, more commonly known as esports, drew 258 million unique viewers globally last year, according to research firm SuperData. For perspective, the National Football League said 204 million unique viewers tuned into the 2016 NFL regular season in the U.S., based on Nielsen data. Just like “real” sports, esports makes money off of investments, branding, advertising and media deals, raking in $1.5 billion in revenue last year, said SuperData. The firm expects the esports industry to hit 299 million viewers this year and top $2 billion in revenue by 2021.

The two things we look for in a management team

As the slide mentions, Verisk decides on buybacks or M&A depending on the available opportunities. Even if they don’t always make the correct assessment in hindsight, we like that there’s a process in place. We were further impressed that Verisk followed the above slide with IRR results from their capital allocation decisions. Again, this level of transparency is rare, but we welcome it and would like more companies to follow suit.

Samsonite wants to spend up on handbags

Parker said Samsonite isn’t actively approaching potential buyers, and the company will likely spend the next year or two consolidating after its $1.8 billion acquisition of luxury bag maker Tumi Holdings Inc. in 2016 and the $105 million purchase of online retailer eBags Inc. last year. The non-travel products market could be a potential space for deals in the future, he said in a separate interview with Bloomberg TV on Thursday.


How one investor turned a bet on the Swiss Central Bank into millions

Still, the root of the gains for Mr. Siegert and the SNB’s other 2,191 private investors is a bit of a mystery. The SNB isn’t like other stocks and pays a tiny dividend. It is governed under laws for both public and private institutions, and owned primarily by individual Swiss states, known as cantons, and cantonal banks. Public-sector bodies own almost 80% of voting shares.

Shareholders have no say in the SNB’s monetary policy or how it manages its massive 790 billion franc war chest of foreign-currency stocks and bonds, built up through years of interventions to weaken the franc.

On the plus side, the SNB is ultrasafe. It prints its own currency—and the franc is among the world’s strongest—which it uses to buy assets. When the SNB loses money, it can always print more. Recently, its profit has been on a tear, aided by rising global stock markets, low bond yields and a weaker franc. The SNB earned a record 54 billion francs in profit last year.


Tencent’s 60,000% runup leads to one of the biggest VC payoffs ever

The stake Naspers bought for just $32 million in 2001 — when Tencent was an obscure Web firm in a nation where few people used the Internet — is now worth $175 billion.

The sale of 190 million shares, worth $10.6 billion based on Tencent’s closing price in Hong Kong on Thursday, will cut the stake held by Naspers to 31.2 percent from 33.2 percent. It’s the first time Naspers has reduced its holdings in Tencent since investing in the company. Naspers won’t sell more shares in the company for at least three years, it said.

Has China overtaken the U.S. in terms of innovation?

In 1996, China invested 0.56 percent of its GDP in R&D, while the U.S. invested 2.44 percent of its GDP. In 2015, China invested 2.06 percent of its GDP, whereas the U.S. invested 2.79 percent. That is, the R&D intensity in China increased by 1.5 percentage points and in the U.S. by only 0.3 percentage points.


Harvard’s nutty idea: Cracking into the almond market

Around 80% of the world’s almonds are currently produced in California, whose almond plantations in its Central Valley have generated strong returns for investors for many years. Volatile weather in recent months, including frost and storms, have hurt estimates for the state’s almond harvest this summer, helping to push wholesale export prices for U.S. almonds to near a two-year high of $6,807 a metric ton.

Consumption of almonds grew 15% from 2012 to 2017, according to estimates from Euromonitor International, which forecasts 4% annual growth through 2021.

In Australia, nuts generate gross revenue of 8,097 to 12,146 Australian dollars (US$6,314 to US$9,471) per acre, roughly 40 times that of grains for the same area, according to the Australian Nut Industry Council. At current wholesale prices of about US$7 per kilogram in Australia, almonds offer a gross margin of around 45% before overhead costs and other expenses, according to Tim McGavin, chief executive of Laguna Bay Pastoral Co., an agricultural asset manager in Brisbane.


Elderly in U.S. are projected to outnumber children for first time

The Census Bureau projects the country would grow to 355 million by 2030, five million fewer than it had estimated three years ago. That is an annual average growth rate of just 0.7%, in line with recent rates but well below historical levels.

Lower population growth could drag on economic growth. This year’s prime-age workforce—ages 25 to 54—is about 630,000 smaller than the Census Bureau projected it would be just three years ago. The bureau projects the prime-age workforce will grow 0.5% a year through 2030, down from a 2014 projected annual rate of 0.58% for the same period.

The share of Americans who are foreign-born, now about 13%, is expected to reach a record 14.9% by 2028, topping a mark set in 1890. That share would rise to 17.2% by 2060.

Does indexing threaten the market?

But from the above results and others, it does not appear that the current level of indexing is a significant problem. This assumes the 24.9% figure for index equity mutual funds and indexed ETFs as a fraction of all U.S. equity mutual funds. As mentioned above, there are no firm figures for institutional indexing or international markets, but it seems unlikely that overall indexed investments exceed the level of roughly 25%.

Along this line, we remain concerned about the fact that many new index ETFs might not be truly independent of the creation of the index, as mentioned above. Even more importantly, given that many of these ETFs and indices are designed via a process of computer exploration of many different component weightings, these ETFs are highly vulnerable to backtest overfitting. As mentioned above, a 2012 Vanguard report found that while 87% of newly published indexes outperformed the broad U.S. stock market over the time period used for the backtest, only 51% outperformed the broad market after inception of the ETF tied to the index.


“I hope for Goldman Sachs’ bankruptcy”: Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Skin in the Game

Our conversation concludes on an optimistic note: “We’ve survived 200,000 years as humans,” says Taleb. “Don’t you think there’s a reason why we survived? We’re good at risk management. And what’s our risk management? Paranoia. Optimism is not a good thing.” Is the paradox, I ask, that human pessimism offers grounds for optimism? “Exactly,” Taleb replies. “Provided psychologists don’t fuck with it.”


What your fund management job will look like in a decade

Asset managers are being squeezed as increased regulation drives up costs and investors shift more money into lower-cost investment products. The solution? The greater use of technology and data-mining to defend margins, reduce expenses and win more client business.

While alternatives still only account for about a tenth of assets, they contribute about 30 percent of revenue, and Oliver Wyman sees that growing to about 40 percent by 2025. That trend will continue to benefit the bigger players able to offer a wider range of investment strategies.

Asset managers that analyze their customer relationship information in conjunction with the asset allocation preferences of both existing and potential customers will gain an advantage. The bigger the firm, the more data it will have available and the more resources it can throw at improving its analytic capabilities.


NASA study: Astronaut’s DNA no longer identical to his identical twin’s after year in space

Though most of Kelly’s biological changes returned to baseline levels after returning to Earth, seven percent of his genes point to possible long-term changes, according to the study. NASA’s preliminary findings were validated this week, according to Space.com. “The Twins Study has benefited NASA by providing the first application of genomics to evaluate potential risks to the human body in space,” according to a release from the agency.

Curated Insights 2017.11.19

Winners and losers In the patent wars between Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft

Google: The full stack AI company

A startup might achieve a breakthrough in an AI vertical, but reaching hundreds of millions of users could take years. The same breakthrough in Google’s hands could be “turned on” for a billion users overnight. Users benefit immediately, while Google’s products become sticker and more valuable.

Google is already seeing a similar benefit. While competitors are using off the shelf processors for deep learning, Google’s TPU provides higher throughout, reduced latency and, perhaps most importantly, reduced power consumption. Because data center construction is Google’s largest capital spending line item and power its highest operating cost, the TPU meaningfully reduces both Google’s capex and opex.

Google’s AI efforts have built a fully integrated company that spans algorithms, data, hardware, and cloud services. This approach helps funnel the world-class AI of Google’s consumer products to its enterprise offerings, providing Google Cloud with a competitive edge. Bringing chip design in-house increases Google’s AI moat by improving performance, lowering latency, and reducing cost. Perhaps most critically, vertical integration enhances its organizational agility: Google can steer all parts of its organization to bring a new product or service to market. Consequently, Google’s AI will be at the forefront of the innovation for years to come.


How Facebook figures out everyone you’ve ever met

Shadow contact information has been a known feature of Facebook for a few years now. But most users remain unaware of its reach and power. Because shadow-profile connections happen inside Facebook’s algorithmic black box, people can’t see how deep the data-mining of their lives truly is, until an uncanny recommendation pops up.

Facebook doesn’t like, and doesn’t use, the term “shadow profiles.” It doesn’t like the term because it sounds like Facebook creates hidden profiles for people who haven’t joined the network, which Facebook says it doesn’t do. The existence of shadow contact information came to light in 2013 after Facebook admitted it had discovered and fixed “a bug.” The bug was that when a user downloaded their Facebook file, it included not just their friends’ visible contact information, but also their friends’ shadow contact information.

It’s what the sociologist danah boyd calls “networked privacy”: All the people who know you and who choose to share their contacts with Facebook are making it easier for Facebook to make connections you may not want it to make. Shadow profile data powers Facebook’s effort to connect as many people as possible, in as many ways as possible. The company’s ability to perceive the threads connecting its billion-plus users around the globe led it to announce last year that it’s not six degrees that separate one person from another—it’s just three and a half.

“Mobile phone numbers are even better than social security numbers for identifying people,” said security technologist Bruce Schneier by email. “People give them out all the time, and they’re strongly linked to identity.”


Will Amazon disrupt healthcare?

Amazon is exceptional at developing formulas to increase efficiency and decrease waste — two vital elements sorely lacking in the current healthcare paradigm.

Baby boomers may be tethered to their in-person interactions with physicians and pharmacists, but millennials are not. They are Amazon’s target audience.

Amazon has several key advantages in a world of personalized medicine — loads of storage space because of its AWS business, sophisticated predictive algorithms, and long-standing, data-rich relationships with millions of “patients”.


How Netflix works: the (hugely simplified) complex stuff that happens every time you hit Play

Netflix estimates that it uses around 700 microservices to control each of the many parts of what makes up the entire Netflix service…And that’s the tip of the iceberg. Netflix engineers can make changes to any part of the application and can introduce new changes rapidly while ensuring that nothing else in the entire service breaks down.

Turns out that Netflix and Amazon’s partnership turned out to be a huge win-win situation for both companies. Netflix turned out to be AWS’s most advanced customers, pushing all of their capabilities to the maximum and constantly innovating upon how they can use the different servers AWS provided for various purposes — to run microservices, to store movies, to handle internet traffic — to their own leverage. AWS in turn improved their systems to allow Netflix to take massive loads on their servers, as well as make their use of different AWS products more flexible, and used the expertise gained to serve the needs of thousands of other corporate customers. AWS proudly touts Netflix as it’s top customer, and Netflix can rapidly improve their services and yet keep it stable because of AWS.


People watch Netflix unabashedly at work (and in public toilets, too)

About 67% of people now watch movies and TV shows in public, according to an online survey it commissioned of 37,000 adults around the world. The most popular public places to stream are on planes, buses, or commuting, the survey found. But 26% of respondents also said they’ve binged shows and movies at work. People in the US were more likely to stream from the office, while users around the world were more likely to stream during their commutes.

For Netflix, mobile still makes up a small chunk of overall viewing. Netflix said it was about 10% as of 2016. But the company also said half of its users stream from a smartphone during any given month. Its audience is now around 110 million subscribers worldwide.


Will traditional auto makers steal the future from Tesla?

Even if electric cars take off in the early to mid-2020s when their cost is likely to be comparable to gas- and diesel-powered vehicles, Garschina thinks the major global auto makers will still dominate the business. Credit Suisse auto analyst Daniel Schwarz recently wrote that auto makers would emerge as winners from simpler, less capital-intensive production of electric vehicles over the next 10 years.

Investors might not be giving the auto industry credit for manufacturing skills honed over decades. As Tesla has found, mass-producing automobiles isn’t easy; the company continues to lose money and grapple with production woes. “The more we learn about new technologies, the clearer it becomes that the key auto makers won’t be disrupted overnight,” says Arndt Ellinghorst, a European auto analyst with Evercore ISI.

Morgan Stanley has estimated that it could take $2.7 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2040 to support a global electric fleet, including 473 million home chargers and seven million super-charging stations. It’s unclear where all that money will come from. The additional need for electricity would be equivalent to current U.S. demand.


These hot restaurants aren’t on maps, only in apps

Virtual restaurants, with their low overhead, are allowing restaurateurs to shift away from the capital-intensive model that kills 60% of new restaurants in their first five years toward something decidedly more techy.

By far the biggest company in the app-driven food-on-demand space is Grubhub. It is so invested in virtual restaurants that two years ago it lent one of its own customers, Green Summit Group, $1 million to expand. Green Summit, which launched in 2013, has kitchens throughout New York City, Todd Millman, its co-founder, says. There might be up to 10 different “restaurants” In a single kitchen. Though they appear on Grubhub as separate establishments, each with a distinct cuisine, all the food might be prepared in the same kitchen by the same staff.

In San Jose, Grubhub competitor DoorDash has built out its own kitchen space. There is one tenant so far, a pizzeria called the Star. (More are on the way, DoorDash says.) To save on rent, DoorDash built the facility in a disused portion of the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds. One month in, the Star’s savings have been notable, says Ben Seabury, chief operating officer of the 1100 Group, which owns the virtual restaurant. Typically, 30 cents of every dollar that comes into one of his restaurants goes to labor, says Mr. Seabury. But without waiters, bartenders and dishwashers, that cost is just 10 cents on the dollar—and even less when demand is high.

Virtual restaurants tap into a larger trend: Americans’ increasing aversion to cooking for themselves. For the first time ever in 2016, Americans spent more at eating and drinking establishments than on groceries, according to U.S. Census data. The food-delivery market is a small slice of that sector: It is only $30 billion in 2017, but Morgan Stanley estimates it could balloon to $220 billion within a few years.

 

Digitizing cash transactions could become quite profitable

Turning financial data into an asset is an early stage opportunity. On a global basis, more than 80% of transactions still occur in cash. Indeed, companies and, at some point, consumers have yet to digitize more than 1.4 trillion transactions per year, roughly equivalent to the number of Google searches per year. Our research indicates that the information associated with digital cash transactions could generate approximately $100 billion of revenue per year.

While we believe that disrupting and digitizing cash transactions represents a large “fintech” opportunity, the benefits are unlikely to accrue to the traditional financial services industry, as it lacks the requisite innovation agility, cost structure, and technical abilities to access and exploit it. Instead, innovative technology companies like Amazon, Google, Facebook, and Tencent that already are transforming big data into big revenue, probably will capitalize on this opportunity.

Companies with the ability to develop deep and dynamic insights into consumer purchasing behavior will be in the best position to capitalize on this $100 billion revenue opportunity. Square, Tencent, Facebook, Amazon, and Alibaba are building the most precise consumer profiles, enabling them to offer value added services like capital loans and insurance either now or in the not-to-distant future. We believe these companies are building significant moats, or barriers to entry, with “value loops” generating more data from their consumers and building products that take increasing share in the marketplace.


Hasbro sets its sights on Mattel

Hasbro has held up relatively well. Chief Executive Brian Goldner has forged close ties to Hollywood, where the company is producing movies and is a favored partner for creating toys tied to films. In recent years, Hasbro won the coveted license for Walt Disney Co.’s Disney Princess characters and has long made toys tied to the media company’s “Star Wars” franchise. Hasbro is also more advanced in telling stories and creating content around its large brands, including a string of feature-length films for its Transformers franchise and more-recent launches like a My Little Pony movie.

Both Hasbro and Mattel were stung by the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy, which threw a major sales channel into turmoil and prompted them to stall deliveries to the retailer, but Mattel’s problems run deeper. The new regime laid out a plan that would keep the company in turnaround mode for a few more years as it tries to fix problems that it blamed on past management. Those included a proliferation of new toys with little staying power that heaped additional costs and complexity onto Mattel’s supply network.

A bigger concern was that a tie-up could trigger change-of-control clauses in the numerous licensing agreements with the likes of Disney, Nickelodeon and others.

Free games fuel $370 billion stock rally – and fears of a crash

In free-to-play games, 2% of players typically generate around 50% of revenue, according to consultancy Yokozuna Data. High-rollers often spend at least $500 per month. Today, the industry generates $100 billion in revenue with about 70 percent coming from in-game goods and services, according to Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

The industry is exploring dark territory. Last month, an Activision Blizzard Inc. patent surfaced which described how machine learning could be used to entice players to spend more. For example, a player could be paired with a teammate who owns a special paid item, and then encourage the player to buy it too.


It’s amazingly cheap to acquire a fleet of Airbus jets

Bill Franke’s airlines are generally fast-growing and profitable, in part because of low expenses and using the latest fuel-efficient jets. All three have exclusively adopted the A320 jet family for cost reasons too, as it makes it easy to swap flight crews and maintenance is less complicated.

Instead of buying jets outright, Frontier, Wizz and Volaris use sale-and-leasebacks. This makes financial sense. One industry observer says the cost of lease finance might be half that of funding an aircraft with equity because of the flood of cheap capital, much of it Chinese. By avoiding ownership, airlines also sidestep residual value risk. If a plane’s value falls, that’s the leasing company’s problem, not Franke’s.


Bob Lutz: Everyone will have 5 years to get their car off the road or sell it for scrap

We don’t need public acceptance of autonomous vehicles at first. All we need is acceptance by the big fleets: Uber, Lyft, FedEx, UPS, the U.S. Postal Service, utility companies, delivery services. Amazon will probably buy a slew of them. These fleet owners will account for several million vehicles a year. Every few months they will order 100,000 low-end modules, 100,000 medium and 100,000 high-end. The low-cost provider that delivers the specification will get the business.

These transportation companies will be able to order modules of various sizes — short ones, medium ones, long ones, even pickup modules. But the performance will be the same for all because nobody will be passing anybody else on the highway. That is the death knell for companies such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi. That kind of performance is not going to count anymore.

Car dealers will continue to exist as a fringe business for people who want personalized modules or who buy reproduction vintage Ferraris or reproduction Formula 3 cars. Automotive sport — using the cars for fun — will survive, just not on public highways. And like racehorse breeders, there will be manufacturers of race cars and sports cars and off-road vehicles. But it will be a cottage industry. The era of the human-driven automobile, its repair facilities, its dealerships, the media surrounding it — all will be gone in 20 years.


Sean Stannard-Stockton interview: Shifting competitive landscapes

Today, if you log-on to Amazon and type in what you’re looking for – not a brand name, but a type of product – the #1 ranked item, regardless of brand, is likely to have thousands of reviews. If those reviews are say 4 or 4 ½ stars or better – with reviews from thousands of people, most consumers will happily purchase the item, no matter what the brand is. In this case, Amazon has effectively not just become a logistics provider, not just made shipping easy, not just benefitted from network effects, but it has inserted its own brand into the purchasing behavior – and so the consumer says, ”I trust Amazon and Amazon’s reviews so much that I don’t need to spend time searching or depending on a brand name, I can simply purchase the product no matter what its brand is.”

 

U.S. to dominate oil markets after biggest boom in world history

By 2025, the growth in American oil production will equal that achieved by Saudi Arabia at the height of its expansion, and increases in natural gas will surpass those of the former Soviet Union, the agency said in its annual World Energy Outlook. The boom will turn the U.S., still among the biggest oil importers, into a net exporter of fossil fuels.

Reflecting the expected flood of supply, the agency cut its forecasts for oil prices to $83 a barrel for 2025 from $101 previously, and to $111 for 2040 from $125 before.

 

I always used that as a metaphor for businesses. The customers pour in the Tender Vittles and in the U.S., when you had a union, they would fight and spill the whole bowl of Tender Vittles. In the end, no one could eat anymore. I looked at U.A.W. “It’s insane, they’re going to kill their company.” Sure enough, they damn near did. General Motors was almost bankrupt. In Germany, the unions have representatives on the board of the company. Yes, they say, “The first thing” — that this bowl of Tender Vittles — “we have to make sure that the bowl is there. We can fight all we want, but don’t spill the bowl.” You don’t destroy your company. That was not the attitude of Anglo-Saxon unions, either in England or the U.S.


Countries with the most farmland

The USDA now estimates that there is 15%-20% more farmland on earth than we expected. That’s 250 to 350 million more hectacres! With this addition, the USDA estimates there’s 1.87 Billion acres of farmland on earth.

In terms of total net cropland, this new study declares India as number 1.

 

 

Electric cars’ green image blackens beneath the bonnet

The Earth’s ozone hole is shrinking and is the smallest it has been since 1988

Warmer-than-usual weather conditions in the stratosphere are to thank for the shrinkage since 2016, as the warmer air helped fend off chemicals like chlorine and bromine that eat away at the ozone layer, scientists said. But the hole’s overall reduction can be traced to global efforts since the mid-1980s to ban the emission of ozone-depleting chemicals.

In June, scientists identified a possible threat to the recovery, believing dichloromethane — an industrial chemical with the power to destroy ozone — doubled in the atmosphere over the past 10 years. If its concentrations keep growing, it could delay the Antarctic ozone layer’s return to normal by up to 30 years, according to the study published in the journal Nature Communications.


How much is the Great Barrier Reef worth? Economists just figured it out

It came up with a value of A$56 billion ($43 billion) based on an asset supporting tens of thousands of jobs and which contributes A$6.4 billion to the economy. “Valuing nature in monetary terms can effectively inform policy settings and help industry, government, the scientific community and the wider public understand the contribution of the environment, or in this case the Great Barrier Reef, to the economy and society,’’ the Deloitte report said. “The tight and unforgiving deadline the Great Barrier Reef is up against necessitates an understanding of its true value to know what kind of policy action is required in response.’’


Why do we love pets? An expert explains.

In his latest book, Bradshaw argues that our fascination with pets is not because they’re useful, nor even because they’re cute, and certainly not because they’ll make us live longer. Instead, he writes, pet-keeping is an intrinsic part of human nature, one rooted deeply in our own species’ evolution.

People with animals, or as simply described as having a friendly dog with them, instantly become more trustworthy in the eyes of the person who’s encountering that person or having that person described to them.

The idea that simply getting a pet is going to make you happy and de-stress you is not going to work if you don’t do the homework about what the animal needs.

Both dogs and cats are carnivores — the cat is a very strict carnivore. The idea that we can continue to essentially farm the world in a way that provides enough meat for dogs and cats to eat, let alone humans, is probably not sustainable. Whether it will be possible for people to continue to keep these animals, or what kinds of substitutes they find if it does become impossible, I think is going to be fascinating, if somewhat painful for the people involved.

 

Why $450 Million for this painting isn’t crazy

Would 7.5 million people a year pay an average of 9 euros to visit the Louvre if La Gioconda, as the painting is sometimes called, weren’t there? If just a million of them passed on it, the museum would lose the entire amount paid for “Salvator Mundi” over 50 years.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone hoping to make much of a profit on a resale after paying such an outrageous price. But building a museum’s pitch for visitors around it could be a way to make economic sense out of the deal.

Curated Insights 2017.11.12

(Guardian: Apple secretly moved parts of empire to Jersey after row over tax affairs)
(BBC: Paradise Papers: Apple’s secret tax bolthole revealed)
(Apple: The facts about Apple’s tax payments)

“US multinational firms are the global grandmasters of tax avoidance schemes that deplete not just US tax collection, but the tax collection of almost every large economy in the world.”

“Apple claims to be the largest US corporate taxpayer, but by sheer size and scale it is also among America’s largest tax avoiders … [It] should not be shifting its profits overseas to avoid the payment of US tax, purposefully depriving the American people of revenue.”

One theory is that AOE “bought” the rights owned by ASI taking advantage of an incentive called capital allowance. This means that if a multinational buys its own intellectual property through an Irish subsidiary, the cost of that purchase will generate many years of tax write-offs in Ireland.


This is how Amazon could invade the pharmacy business

Drug delivery would also add to the value of Amazon Prime membership. Customers who pay the $99-per-year price for Prime membership are its most loyal customers, and Amazon is constantly looking for ways to increase the value of membership to keep shoppers from using competitors.

In generics especially, there are numerous markups along the way that Amazon could eliminate or pare back to capture market share.

Amazon already owns wholesale distribution licenses in at least 13 states and could build its own pharmacy business from scratch, restructuring the drug supply chain in the process. For now, these wholesale licenses may be part of Amazon’s business-to-business sales effort, which would focus on hospitals, doctors’ offices and dentists. In the longer term, however, the drug-distribution licenses could be the first step in building a hub-and-spoke model for drugs that could eventually serve consumers.

There are thousands of different drugs and dosages with prices that vary widely among drugstores and insurance plans. This makes it hard for patients to know when they are getting the best deal.


Tesla hits bumps in pursuit of mass market

Potential problems uncovered include workers in its Fremont plant manually operating robots that should be automated, several cost overruns and delays from suppliers because of late changes to design specifications, and difficulties sequencing parts once they arrive at the plant leading to a large number of unfinished vehicles coming off the line.

 

In multiple instances, the company shipped cars from the factory that lacked key parts such as computer modules, digital displays, or even seats. These parts were flown to Tesla-owned dealers, who then assembled them into the vehicle before completing the shipments to customers, according to several people familiar with the practice.


 

Apple acquired InVisage with well over 100 patents on quantum dot technology for advanced cameras and beyond

Apple’s acquisition of InVisage is very exciting as iPhone cameras are becoming a key feature to keep their smartphones ahead of the pack. Advancing video will be very exciting to see come to the iPhone and beyond. Between the advances in Quantum Dot technology and depth cameras, they have expertise in many markets that Apple could tap into over time.

Why AI is the ‘new electricity’

The U.S. and China lead the world in investments in AI, according to James Manyika, chairman and director of the McKinsey Global Institute. Last year, AI investment in North America ranged from $15 billion to $23 billion, Asia (mainly China) was $8 billion to $12 billion, and Europe lagged at $3 billion to $4 billion. Tech giants are the primary investors in AI, pouring in between $20 billion and $30 billion, with another $6 billion to $9 billion from others, such as venture capitalists and private equity firms.

Where did they put their money? Machine learning took 56% of the investments with computer vision second at 28%. Natural language garnered 7%, autonomous vehicles was at 6% and virtual assistants made up the rest. But despite the level of investment, actual business adoption of AI remains limited, even among firms that know its capabilities, Manyika said. Around 40% of firms are thinking about it, 40% experiment with it and only 20% actually adopt AI in a few areas.

The reason for such reticence is that 41% of companies surveyed are not convinced they can see a return on their investment, 30% said the business case isn’t quite there and the rest said they don’t have the skills to handle AI. However, McKinsey believes that AI can more than double the impact of other analytics and has the potential to materially raise corporate performance.


Why multi-cloud is the next big thing in technology

Why has cloud become so indispensable to so many companies? Because pretty much every company has become a software company, and they all need to deliver their software faster and to more people than ever before.

Avoiding lock-in and saving cost; Differentiation; responding to cloud vendor pressure; resiliency, redundancy, performance and data sovereignty; M&A and consolidation; access to resources.

A recent survey by RightScale found that 85% of enterprises now have a multi-cloud strategy, up from 82% in 2016. This creates immense opportunities for startups that can help companies work seamlessly across various different cloud providers. Startups that promise cloud neutrality – not being locked into one particular vendor – will have significant advantage in this new battlefield.


A decade after DARPA: Our view on the state of the art in self-driving cars

Developing a system that can be manufactured and deployed at scale with cost-effective, maintainable hardware is even more challenging. We are innovating across the sensing hardware and software stack to lower costs, reduce sensor count, and improve range and resolution. There remains significant work to be done to accomplish these conflicting objectives and get the technology to reliably scale.

Testing stochastic systems requires a significant number of repetitions generated by real-world data for it to be representative. That means we must gather millions of miles of road experience to teach the software to drive with confidence. (Imagine needing to drive millions of miles to get your driver’s license!) But not all miles are created equal, so “accumulated miles” is not an expressive enough metric to track progress. Think of it this way: The skills you acquired learning to drive in a quiet Midwestern town will not translate should you find yourself driving in the heart of Manhattan.

We’re still very much in the early days of making self-driving cars a reality. Those who think fully self-driving vehicles will be ubiquitous on city streets months from now or even in a few years are not well connected to the state of the art or committed to the safe deployment of the technology. For those of us who have been working on the technology for a long time, we’re going to tell you the issue is still really hard, as the systems are as complex as ever.


How many robots does it take to fill a grocery order?

The U.K.’s biggest online grocer hit a milestone this year: Ocado Group Plc put together an order of 50 items, including produce, meat and dairy, in five minutes. Fulfilling a similar order at one of the company’s older facilities takes an average of about two hours. The secret: a fleet of 1,000 robots that scurry about a warehouse snatching up products and delivering them to human packers.


Thanks to Wall St., there may be too many restaurants

There are now more than 620,000 eating and drinking places in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the number of restaurants is growing at about twice the rate of the population.

“Everybody thinks their brand has what it takes to succeed in the marketplace. You look at a location that looks good, but everybody is looking at the same place and they all come in, and the result is you get oversaturation.”

Sales at individual chain restaurants, compared with a year earlier, began dropping in early 2016, analysts reported. A majority of restaurants reported sales growth in just four of the last 22 monthly surveys from the National Restaurant Association. Before that, most restaurants had reported growth for 20 consecutive months, from March 2014 through October 2015, the survey found. As Americans work longer hours and confront an ever-growing array of food options, they are spending a growing share of their food budget — about 44 cents per dollar — on restaurants.

The shuttering of restaurants could have a major impact on the labor market. Since 2010, restaurants have accounted for one out of every seven new jobs, and many restaurateurs complain that it has become increasingly difficult to hire and retain workers.


Menu prices will tell the future of inflation

Take a company like the Cheesecake Factory. In its third-quarter earnings report back in 2013, when the labor market was looser, labor costs represented 32.1 percent of revenue. Operating margins were 8.2 percent. Fast forward to the third-quarter earnings report this year. Labor costs had risen to 34.9 percent of revenue, and operating margins had shrunk to 6.2 percent. In its conference call, the company guided wage growth in 2018 to 5 percent, in line with many of its peers. As labor pressures have eaten into margins and profits, perhaps not surprisingly, the company’s stock is flat over the past four years.

Lucky for the restaurant industry, even while labor costs have been rising, food costs have been falling. Cheesecake Factory’s cost of sales as a percentage of revenue has fallen to 22.9 percent, from 24.0 percent in the third quarter of 2013. Without this, margins would be even lower.

The cost of eating out has been going up at a rate of only 2.4 percent per year, less than wage growth in the industry.

Jeff Bezos’s guide to life

On raising kids: Jeff and his wife let their kids use sharp knives since they were four and soon had them wielding power tools, because if they hurt themselves, they’d learn. Jeff says his wife’s perspective is “I’d much rather have a kid with nine fingers than a resourceless kid.”

…decided “the best way to think about it was to project my life forward to age 80” and make the decision that “minimized my regrets. You don’t want to be cataloguing your regrets.” And while you might feel remorse for things you did wrong, he said more often regrets stem from the “path not taken” like loving someone but never telling them. “Then it was immediately obvious” that he should leave to start Amazon. “If it failed, I would be very proud when I was 80 that I tried.”

On space entrepreneurship: The key to opening the opportunities of space is reducing the price of getting objects out of Earth’s gravity. “We have to lower the cost of admission so thousands of entrepreneurs can have startups in space, like we saw with the Internet”, noting how web companies exploded in popularity as infrastructure costs came down.


Peak farmland, peak timber, peak car travel, peak child

About 1970 a great reversal began in America’s use of resources. Contrary to the expectations of many professors and preachers, America began to spare more resources for the rest of nature, first in relative and more recently in absolute amounts. A series of decouplings is occurring, so that our economy no longer advances in tandem with exploitation of land, forests, water, and minerals. American use of almost everything except information seems to be peaking, not because the resources are exhausted, but because consumers changed consumption and producers changed production. Changes in behavior and technology liberate the environment. – Nature Rebounds, Jesse Ausubel

Curated Insights 2017.11.05

This company’s robots are making everything and reshaping the world

Earlier this year, during one of Fanuc’s rare open houses, Vice President Kenji Yamaguchi told investors that about 80 percent of the company’s assembly work is automated. “Only the wiring is done by engineers,” he said. And when you have lots of efficient robots making your other robots, you can sell those robots more cheaply—about $25,500 for a new Robodrill. (You can find a well-used older model on EBay for $8,500.) Volkswagen Group, for instance, pays about 10 percent less for Fanuc robots than it paid for ones it previously purchased from Kuka AG, a German company.

Fanuc manages to offer these savings while maintaining 40 percent operating profit margins, a success that Yamaguchi also traced to the company’s centralized production in Japan, which is made possible, even though most of its products are sold outside the country, by the 243 global service centers that keep its robots operational. The company even profits from its competitors’ sales, because more than half of all industrial robots are directed by its numerical-control software. Between the almost 4 million CNC systems and half-million or so industrial robots it has installed around the world, Fanuc has captured about one-quarter of the global market, making it the industry leader over competitors such as Yaskawa Motoman and ABB Robotics in Germany, each of which has about 300,000 industrial robots installed globally. Fanuc’s Robodrills now command an 80 percent share of the market for smartphone manufacturing robots.

Orders from the U.S., though, are dwarfed by those from China—some 90,000 units, almost a third of the world’s total industrial robot orders last year. Sales to China amounted to about 55 percent of the $5 billion Fanuc’s automation unit generated in the fiscal year ended March 2017. The International Federation of Robotics estimates that, by 2019, China’s annual industrial robot orders will rise to 160,000 units, suggesting Fanuc will be insulated from any slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy. Yoshiharu told investors at his most recent Q&A session in April that the company expects demand in China to outstrip supply even after Fanuc opens a factory next August in Japan’s Ibaraki prefecture. The facility will be dedicated solely to keeping up with Chinese demand.

The result of Nishikawa’s insight was the Fanuc Intelligent Edge Link and Drive, or Field. The system, introduced in 2016, is an open, cloud-based platform that allows Fanuc to collect global manufacturing data in real time on a previously unimaginable scale and funnel it to self-teaching robots.


Apple should shrink its finance arm before it goes bananas

Apple does not organise its financial activities into one subsidiary, but Schumpeter has lumped them together. The result—call it “Apple Capital”—has $262bn of assets, $108bn of debt, and has traded $1.6trn of securities since 2011.

Since Jobs died, its assets have risen by 221%, twice as fast as the company’s sales, reflecting Apple’s huge build-up of profits. Its investments are worth 32% of Apple’s market value, and its profits (investment income, plus gains on derivatives, less interest costs) have been 7% of Apple’s pre-tax profits so far this year. It is also sizeable compared with other financial firms. Consider four measures: assets, debt, credit exposure and profits.

In 2011 a majority of its assets were “risk-free”: cash or government bonds. Today 68% are invested in other kinds of securities, mainly corporate bonds, which Apple says are generally investment grade. The shift may explain why Apple’s annual interest rate earned on its portfolio (2%) is now higher than that of the four other Silicon Valley firms with money mountains, Microsoft, Alphabet, Cisco and Oracle. In total, they still have 66% of their portfolios squirrelled away in risk-free assets.

Its foreign operation swims in cash while its domestic one drowns in debt. Profits made abroad are kept in foreign subsidiaries. That way Apple does not pay the 35% levy America charges when earnings are repatriated. Some 94% of Apple Capital’s assets are “offshore” and cannot be tapped for ordinary purposes. The domestic business must do the hard work of paying for dividends and buy-backs. Its profits are not big enough to cover these, so it borrows. Domestic net debts have risen to $92bn, or five times domestic gross operating profits. Each year Apple must issue $30bn of bonds (including refinancing), similar to the average of Wall Street’s five largest firms.


To understand the benefits of tax reform, start by understanding Apple’s taxes

Now we have the numbers that answer the basic question: What accounts for the difference between what Apple pays and the official 35% rate? Page 56 of its 10K shows the numbers. Once again, if Apple had faced the full 35% rate, it would have paid $21.46 billion in federal taxes (as well as another $990 million to the states). Instead, it paid $10.444 billion in cash, and accrued $5.241 billion in U.S. tax owed on foreign profits, but deferred to be paid later. That’s the total of $15.685 billion that it booked in tax expense on its income statement. The difference between that number and the approximately $21.5 billion it would have paid at the 35% rate is the almost $5.6 billion exclusion for “indefinitely invested foreign earnings.”

Surprisingly, companies such as Apple with an extremely large proportion of foreign sales, could actually pay more U.S. taxes in cash each year under the current proposals. That’s because elimination of deferrals and the exception for reinvested earnings would sent more money to the Treasury even at the far lower minimum rate.

 

Google’s profits are exploding because the web is massive

The bigger the web grows, the more valuable Google becomes. And, with more than one billion websites in the world and more than 4 billion people with regular access to the Internet, finding your needle in that haystack is the fundamental problem of Internet use. As the tech writer Ben Thompson wrote, “Google is the king of aggregators because, when information shifted from scarcity to abundance, discovery became the point of leverage, and Google was better at discovery than anyone.”

Second, the migration of attention from print and television to the internet—both desktop and mobile—has created a advertising duopoly for Google and Facebook. As these slides from the last Kleiner Perkins internet presentation show clearly, mobile is the future of media attention and Facebook and Google’s share of digital ad revenue is growing faster than the rest of the industry combined.


How Google’s quantum computer could change the world

Early next year, Google’s quantum computer will face its acid test in the form of an obscure computational problem that would take a classical computer billions of years to complete. Success would mark “quantum supremacy,” the tipping point where a quantum computer accomplishes something previously impossible. It’s a milestone computer scientists say will mark a new era of computing, and the end of what you might call the classical age.

That potential is a result of exponential growth. Adding one bit negligibly increases a classical chip’s computing power, but adding one qubit doubles the power of a quantum chip. A 300-bit classical chip could power (roughly) a basic calculator, but a 300-qubit chip has the computing power of two novemvigintillion bits—a two followed by 90 zeros—a number that exceeds the atoms in the universe.

Volkswagen AG is testing quantum computers made by Canadian firm D-Wave Systems Inc. In March, the companies said that, using GPS data from 10,000 taxis in Beijing, they created an algorithm to calculate the fastest routes to the airport while also minimizing traffic. A classical computer would have taken 45 minutes to complete that task, D-Wave said, but its quantum computer did it in a fraction of a second.

Such a complex and expensive setup means that Google and its peers will likely sell quantum computing via the cloud, possibly charging by the second.


Google has a new plan for China (and it’s not about search)

Rather than another splashy product launch, Google’s latest China strategy is a grassroots effort focused on getting developers in the country trained and hooked on its AI building blocks. It’s similar to the way business software startups get employees using their services before corporate IT departments notice. Once the tools become popular, companies often accept the technology and sign up for full service.

It’s hard to find a place as fertile for AI as China. The country has one of the fastest growing TensorFlow developer communities in Asia, despite the fact that Google’s cloud services are unavailable there. The Chinese government has made AI a national priority. Scores of Chinese companies are deploying machine-learning systems — AI software that automatically adjusts to data — to update banking services, identify faces in crowds and control drones.

Beijing-based Wang Xiaoyu said TensorFlow was a vital tool for her podcast startup CastBox.FM. Developing her own tools would’ve required a team of 20 expensive machine-learning specialists. Instead, she turned to TensorFlow and hired a single Chinese PhD graduate with TensorFlow experience capable of producing the same results. Her company is now worth about $60 million with more than 8 million users downloading her app.

Ricky Wong, an investor who often works in China, analyzed the location of the first 5,000 developers to access the tools and found more came from Beijing than all of Silicon Valley.


Tech goes to Washington

I still believe that, on balance, blaming tech companies for the last election is, more than anything, a convenient way to avoid larger questions about what drove the outcome. And, as I noted, the fact is that tech companies remain popular with the broader public.

What this hearing highlighted, though, is the degree to which the position of Facebook in particular has become more tenuous. The fact of the matter is that Facebook (and Google) is more powerful than any entity we have seen before. Magnifying the problem is that, over the last year, Facebook has decided to “take responsibility”, and what is that but a commitment to exercise their control over what people see?

More broadly, it is hard to escape the conclusion that tech companies have been unable to resist the ring of power: the end game of aggregation is unprecedented control over what people see; the only way to handle that power without risking the abuse of it is a commitment to true neutrality. That Facebook, Twitter, and Google — which, by the way, holds just as much if not more power than Facebook, but without the attendant media scrutiny — have committed to fixing the Russian problem is itself more problematic than those urging they do just that may realize.

Inside Fort Botox, where a deadly toxin yields $2.8 billion drug

Scientists differ over how much of the toxin would be required to inflict massive damage. Data on the topic is scarce, and that may be intentional. But a study published in 2001 in the Journal of the American Medical Association said that a single gram in crystallized form, “evenly dispersed and inhaled, would kill more than 1 million people.” Experts are divided over what it would take to effectively weaponize the toxin, but the mere possibility of a botulism bomb has the U.S. government on edge. That puts Allergan in a remarkable position. The government’s vigilance enhances the company’s own secrecy, and together they give Botox a near-monopoly that is almost unassailable. Allergan says Botox has more than 90 percent of the market for medical uses of neurotoxins and 75 percent of the market for cosmetic uses.


Gene therapy helped these children see. Can it transform medicine?

Spark’s product, named Luxturna, is designed to help a subset of LCA sufferers with a mutation in a gene known as RPE65 — who number about 6,000 in northern America, Europe and the other developed markets the company hopes to enter. But its approval would have much broader implications for the way we fight sickness and disease. 

Drugs are designed to fight illnesses by cajoling the body, opening up one biological pathway or closing down another. Gene therapy takes a different approach, replacing the faulty or missing DNA that is causing the disease in the first place and helping the body fix itself. Because it tackles the illness at its biological root, it could offer a one-time treatment for an array of genetically driven conditions that have either had poor options or none at all, from haemophilia and Parkinson’s to Huntington’s disease, cystic fibrosis and myriad rare diseases. It opens up the possibility of that thing still so elusive in modern medicine: a cure. 


Patient deaths show darker side of modernized Chinese medicine

Having struggled for decades to rein in the sector, regulators have recently begun pushing for an overhaul of Chinese medicine injections, seeking to weed out unsafe and ineffective products. But the process could take up to a decade, given the complexity of these intravenous pharmaceuticals.

Still, due to the history of lax regulation, many injectables based on Chinese medicine haven’t been evaluated in strict scientific clinical trials. That means the reactions they set off in the body aren’t fully known. Chinese medicine is based on centuries of practical experience. But it is traditionally taken orally, which gives the digestive system a chance to shield patients from harmful chemicals. Injecting the concoctions into the bloodstream can heighten side effects.


This budget airline is buying seaplanes to reach areas others can’t

SpiceJet Ltd. is in talks with Japan’s Setouchi Holdings Inc. to buy about 100 amphibious Kodiak planes that can land anywhere, including on water, gravel or in an open field. The deal, valued at about $400 million, would help SpiceJet capitalize on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious plan to connect the vast nation by air without waiting for billions of dollars in upgrades to colonial-era infrastructure.

India’s airlines handled 100 million domestic passengers last year, making it the No. 3 market behind China and the U.S. To handle growth, India will need at least 2,100 new planes worth $290 billion in the next 20 years, Boeing Co. estimates.

“The basic logic for this is that in India, we need last-mile connectivity,” Singh said. “The amphibian plane opens up a lot of areas, creates a lot of flexibility.”

“High-end tourists use amphibious aircraft at exotic locations all over the world,” said Amber Dubey, a New Delhi-based partner and India head of aerospace and defense at KPMG. “There’s no reason why it can’t be successful in India.”


This doctor turned $15,000 into a $1.6 billion beauty empire

“We focus on mid-end customers because they’re the biggest group of people,” said Suwin, who trained as a doctor before becoming an entrepreneur. “The high-end segment is small and very competitive.”

In mainland China, Beauty Community sells through online channels including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s Tmall platform. The country’s beauty market is forecast to grow at an average of 9 percent a year until 2020, outpacing the 5 percent expansion expected in Thailand, according to Euromonitor.

Beauty Community is the ninth biggest company in Thailand’s cosmetics industry, with a 3.1 percent share of a fragmented market, according to Euromonitor. L’Oreal leads, with 12 percent, followed by direct sales company Better Way (Thailand) Co. and Estee Lauder Cos. The firm aims to have 450 shops domestically in the next three years, under brands such as Beauty Cottage and Beauty Buffet.


Debating where tech is going to take finance

The point of most innovations in consumer finance has been precisely to reduce its presence in our lives: Instead of talking to a bank teller to get money, you use an ATM. Instead of physically walking into a broker’s office to talk about which stocks to buy, you buy index funds through a web page. Or, now, you click to enroll in an app and it does all of your asset-allocating and stock-picking and tax-harvesting and so forth for you. I think that a lot of financial technology is heading in the direction of perfecting that vanishing act, so that in 20 years you’ll just think about financial things less than you do now.

The EU’s definitive defeat: digital tax plans and a declaration of surrender to Silicon Valley

The EU has a huge competitiveness issue already, and due to the eurozone’s lack of innovation, especially in its Mediterranean member states, the sovereign-debt crisis is never going to be resolved. The European Central Bank is, in some ways unlawfully, keeping Europe’s south afloat and will do so for some more time, but at some point there will be a crisis of unprecedented proportions–either an acute and dramatic crisis or an extended depression from which the eurozone as an economic area won’t really recover.

By now the EU appears to have given up on its ambitions for the digital economy. Instead, its focus is on a new tax that could lead to a full-blown trade war with the U.S. and would definitely harm European companies and consumers in the end.

There are structural reasons for which the EU not only lacks major players like Apple and Google but why it’s highly unlikely that any of its startups will, as an independent company, ever reach that level.

Unfortunately, the Commission’s tax initiative has drawn support even from normally libertarian, free-market and fiscally conservative parties such as Germany’s FDP, whose secretary-general said last week that she wants to impose higher taxes on the likes of “Apple, Google, and Facebook.”


China’s critical role in technology and geopolitics

There are 214 private companies in the world valued at $1 billion or more, known as unicorns. Slightly more than half (108) are,as you would expect, based in the United States, but 55 are in China, with the remaining 51 located in other countries throughout the world. Of the top ten unicorns, China has four (including numbers two and three) and the U.S. has six. China’s innovation has been engineering-based rather than science-based and it is consumer-focused and efficiency-driven. Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent together represent 16% of world net digital advertising revenue and 20% of world net mobile Internet ad revenue. Google and Facebook are the leaders with a combined 43% of net digital and 51% net mobile ad revenue.

China’s investment in research goes beyond information technology. Prior to 2010, the country committed almost $10 billion to research with biotechnology a focal point. The Chinese biotech industry has been growing at 30% and is valued at over $10 billion today. There are more than 580 biopharma companies. Chinese scientists have transformed normal adult cells into embryonic stem cells and produced live mice from these lab-produced cells. There are two major state funding sources – the State High-Tech Development Program and the Basic Research Program. China is the third largest filer of patents, after the United States and Japan.

An issue of concern for many investors is the level of Chinese debt, which has risen from 149% to 269% of GDP over the past decade. Increasing debt has accounted for two percentage points of China’s 7.25% growth from 2012 to 2016. There is also the worry that there are a number of non-performing loans on the books of the banks and “shadow” banks, but the adverse effects of these has been deferred by the country’s growth.


The conventional view of China’s problems may be all wrong: Q&A

If migrants are allowed to live and settle in cities and they spend as much as normal Chinese, the savings rate would fall. Consumption would increase by 2 or 3 percentage points of GDP, which is the entirety of the trade surplus.

What’s unique in China and doesn’t happen anywhere else is this migrant worker phenomenon. In any other country, you don’t have a hukou policy. Hukou is a link to savings, and then links to global trade surpluses. That’s a real strange link. This never would have been a logical way of thinking about it in any other country.

If you liberalize hukou, it reduces pressure to save. It increases your incentive or opportunity to consume. This increases demand for resources. It doesn’t require credit expansion or generation or stimulus. Therefore, you have GDP growth without debt buildup, which is exactly what you need. It’s a simple reform with tremendous impact. Allow people to live in Beijing and Shanghai where jobs pay more, and productivity will be higher.


Backlash against Chinese products ramps up in India

Two-way trade statistics tell the tale. India’s deficit with China has ballooned nine-fold over a decade to $49 billion in 2016 as China’s manufacturing edge stacks the odds against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-year-old ‘Make-in-India’ program. The result: India’s current account deficit is worsening again, threatening the outlook for an economy already straining under the fallout of a snap ban on high-value notes a year ago and a new sales tax.

“The imbalanced trade relationship reflects the fact that India’s manufacturing sector remains strongly underdeveloped. Unless it is able to develop its manufacturing sector so that it can produce a large share of the growing demand for goods in its economy, India’s economic growth will be constrained by rising current account deficits and/or inflation and their consequences.”

“No one is capable of competing with the Chinese.”


Abandoned land in Japan will be the size of Austria by 2040

A private research group headed by a former government minister today warned that the area (link in Japanese) of vacant land and homes could by 2040 be as big as Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido—about 83,000 sq km (32,000 sq miles), or the size of Austria. The area is currently about 41,000 sq km, slightly bigger than Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.

Hiroya Masuda, the former minister who chaired the group, warned in a 2014 book that about 900 cities, towns, and villages in Japan would be extinct by 2040.

Singapore is finding it harder to grow, literally

By filling the sea along its coasts with imported sand, the tiny island nation has expanded its physical size by about 24 percent since 1960, according to data from the Singapore Land Authority.

The government has plans to continue expanding its land size and said in a 2013 proposal that it expects to increase its land size to 296 square miles by 2030 to further support economic and population growth.

Supersized family farms are gobbling up American agriculture

Farms with $1 million or more in annual sales—only 4% of the total—now produce two-thirds of the country’s agricultural output, the largest portion since the U.S. Agriculture Department’s census began tracking the statistic in the ’80s.

Three-quarters of America’s farmed cropland is controlled by 12% of farms, USDA data show. The number of million-dollar-plus revenue farms more than doubled between 1992 and 2015, while the ranks of smaller farms, with revenue between $350,000 and $999,999, fell by 5%, as farmers get older and have a hard time making consistent profits. USDA researchers, in a December report, said consolidation is likely to continue.

An average farm household in the Colby area needs income of at least $50,000 annually to get by, said Mr. Wood, the agricultural economist, which has become harder to generate from a smaller farm. “The big guys can cover their costs and have money left over to grow,” Mr. Wood said. Smaller farms, he said, “are going to struggle.”

Curated Insights 2017.10.01

Alibaba takes control of delivery business at center of U.S. probe

China’s largest web marketplace agreed to increase its stake in Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Ltd. to 51 percent. Under the deal, Alibaba plans to consolidate Cainiao’s financials into its own books, eroding Alibaba’s bottom line, and will get an additional seat on Cainiao’s board, taking its representation to four out of seven seats.

It oversees a coterie of more than a dozen shipping partners, orchestrating deliveries carried out by about 2 million people across more than 600 cities. Cainiao’s operation had enabled Alibaba to maintain what it called an asset-light model that eschewed expensive warehouse construction.

“They’re realizing that it’s much more capital-intensive than they expected to build this out. Right now they are essentially obligating themselves to report profit and loss on the income statement every quarter, which they probably should have been doing.”


A small-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone

This comparison is apt: the Watch is effectively stealing usage from the iPhone. At first it took alerts, timekeeping, and basic messaging away. Now it’s taking basic phone calls and music and maybe maps.

It’s fitting therefore to remember how the iPhone was launched; as a tentpole troika: A wide-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone. Today the new Watch is a small-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone.

So not only is the Series 3 Watch more powerful than the original iPhone but it is also poetically capable of the same tentpole jobs. But it’s not just a miniature iPhone. It has a new, completely orthogonal attack on non-consumption and market creation: fitness and health. This is a key point. The iPhone was born a phone but grew up to be something completely unprecedented, unforeseen by its creators and, frankly, undescribable in the language of 2007.


Forget the Swiss, it’s Fossil that Apple is threatening

In the watch world, the Fossil Group is a giant. It has 17 brands: six of its own (Fossil, Skagen, etc.) and 11 licensed brands (Michael Kors, Emporio Armani, Tory Burch, etc.) In 2014, it was on a roll, achieving a fifth consecutive year of record revenues, at $3.51 billion. Watches accounted for 78% of that.

Then along came Apple. Suddenly, Fossil was competing with a monster 67 times bigger than it was (measured by revenues). “Prior to that, we were clearly positioned as the competitively advantaged leader in a growing category,” Fossil CEO Kosta Kartsotis told financial analysts in February. “However, with the introduction of technology into wrist devices, traditional watches came under pressure and we were disadvantaged. We didn’t have the technology capabilities to compete with smartwatches, leading to a decline in our market.”

“I haven’t met with anybody [in Switzerland] yet who sees this [downturn] as anything other than a slump,” he told me in March. “They don’t see the threat from the smartwatch.” Apple will continue to perfect the smartwatch, he says. “By version 3 or 4, everyone will be thinking this is a good thing to have. Forty to 80 million people will want this.”


Siemens to merge rail operations with French rival Alstom

Siemens will transfer its business making train and transit cars and signaling equipment to Alstom in exchange for a 50 percent stake in the enlarged company.

The combination will give the German company control of an icon of French industry that developed the high-speed TGV trains that zip across the countryside at upwards of 300 kilometers an hour (186 miles per hour)…Capping years of speculation in the industry about the need for consolidation, the tie up could mirror the emergence of European planemaker Airbus in the 1970s that went on to become the biggest competitor to Boeing Co.

Now, the companies’ tie up comes after Chinese dominance of the train market has solidified. CRRC controls about half of the rail car and locomotive market, while Siemens and Bombardier each have about 12 percent and Alstom around 11 percent, according to Desjardins Capital Markets. The Chinese company was formed in 2015 in a merger of the country’s two main regional train manufacturers and it has won rail orders in U.S. cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

China gives automakers more time in world’s biggest EV plan

Under the so-called cap-and-trade policy, automakers must obtain a new-energy vehicle score — which is linked to the production of various types of zero- and low-emission vehicles — of at least 10 percent starting in 2019, rising to 12 percent in 2020, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on its website. The rule applies to carmakers that manufacture or import more than 30,000 traditional vehicles annually, and those who fail to comply must buy credits or face fines.

The targets look achievable for the industry as a whole, McKerracher said. Considering the credit structure, 12 percent in 2020 would translate to about 4 percent to 5 percent of actual vehicle sales.


Why India will tell us when self-driving cars will hit the US

When will self-driving cars arrive? Depends on who you ask. The VCs believe what they’re told by their portfolio companies. Automakers will say anything to inflate their stock price relative to Tesla. Self-driving evangelists and “keynote speakers” on LinkedIn? Broken clocks not yet right even once. The media? There are still less than ten people writing intelligently on a market expected to hit $7 trillion.

Population density is so high that no current Automatic Emergency Braking system could possibly work in traffic, because no car equipped with it would ever move. What about Blind Spot Monitoring systems? They’d be lighting up and chiming so much, you’d have to disable them.

That Indian roads are more dangerous than America’s is obvious, and beside the point. No government ever eases traffic safety laws. Indian traffic fatalities in 2013 approached 240,000, in a country of 1.3 billion. That’s 16.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year. For those numbers to go down, people have to have choices that lead to them to safety. In a country where the majority have never owned a car, where two wheelers dominate and road conditions are terrible, getting people into any car will improve overall safety.


Learning effects, network effects, and runaway leaders

Learning effects have the potential to generate enormous economic value, as network effects do, if companies are able to close this loop and make it self-reinforcing: that is, if their products learn more because they have become more valuable.

In order for learning effects to produce runaway leaders, a company must secure a definitive advantage over its competitors in one of the component areas of learning effects – data, intelligence, product innovation or user/customer growth – and leverage this into advantages in the others, such that the company can acquire data, learn, innovate and grow not only more rapidly than its competitors do, but more rapidly than they can.

Certain products – particularly those built on highly dynamic datasets – may have perpetual learning curves such that in a rapidly changing world, they can always be meaningfully improved. It’s around these kinds of products that the most valuable runaway leaders will likely develop. Potential examples include search, semantic engines, adaptive autonomous systems and applications requiring a comprehensive real-time understanding of the world.

How Europe’s changes to copyright law will affect America

The goal of these copyright changes is to adopt new protections for publishers and artists. But if they are put in place, the burdens they would place on internet platforms would curtail the kind of quick uploading, sharing, commenting and responding that makes the Web so useful. Additionally, we have no reason to believe that these new plans would actually benefit the journalists and artists in whose name the measures are being proposed.

Yet a lot more is at stake than the fate of Google or Facebook. Those companies at least can afford the cost of complying with (or avoiding) Europe’s copyright proposals. Smaller businesses can’t. For example, medium-sized internet platforms pay between $10,000 and $25,000 a month in licensing fees for a common tool that conducts a copyright scan of uploaded audio files, an impost that could wipe out a new startup.


India: A $6T GDP By 2027?

The government and the Central Bank are on a mission to rapidly formalize and financialize the Indian economy. India has introduced a universal biometric identification system (Aadhaar), initiated measures to boost financial inclusion, moved to a new fully online value-added goods and services tax system and implemented real-time payment systems. Coupled with rising smartphone penetration, likely doubling from 300 million to nearly 700 million by 2020, these changes are driving India’s digitization. We expect a step change in India’s per capita income, banking system and stock market performance over the coming years. The channels of change include more financial penetration, greater tax compliance and increased credit to micro enterprises and consumers.

The result could be a multi-trillion dollar investment opportunity. Aside from the near-term teething issues involved in execution of such big changes and other cyclical problems faced by the economy, there is scope for visible shifts in economic activity starting in 2018.


We’re going to need more lithium

By 2030, Tianqi Lithium, SQM, Albemarle, and FMC, the companies that dominate the business, will have to supply enough lithium to feed the equivalent of 35 plants the size of the Tesla Gigafactory now being built in Nevada, according to BNEF. The total investment in new mines, including some for other elements used in lithium ion batteries, will likely range from $350 billion to $750 billion, according to analysts at researcher Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.


 

Our hankering for meat is a boon for global antibiotic producers

Food animals will consume 200,235 tons of antimicrobial medicines by 2030, 53 percent more than they were getting in 2013, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. China, already the world’s largest consumer of veterinary antimicrobials, is forecast to lead the charge, with a 59 percent jump.

Limiting daily meat intake worldwide to the equivalent of one standard fast-food burger per person could reduce global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals by 66 percent, the researchers said.

37 quotes from big corporate execs who laughed off disruption when it hit

“Amazon.com is a very interesting retail concept, but wait till you see what Wal-Mart is gearing up to do,” he said [IBM Chairman, Louis V. Gerstner Jr.]. Mr. Gerstner noted that last year IBM’s Internet sales were five times greater than Amazon’s. Mr. Gerstner boasted that IBM “is already generating more revenue, and certainly more profit, than all of the top Internet companies combined.”

The Apple watch is an interesting toy, but not a revolution,” said Swatch executive Nick Hayek Jr., speaking to a Swiss newspaper. “I personally don’t want my blood pressure and blood sugar values stored in the cloud, or on servers in Silicon Valley … I cannot accept the responsibility of whether my device warns a customer in time before a heart attack.”

“Apple is like a mutant virus, escaping from the traditional structure of the PC industry, but the industry will still eventually build up immunity, thus further blocking this trend, and we believe the size of the non-Apple camp will exceed Apple’s, because this is how the industry normally evolves.”

“Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”


So few market winners, so much dead weight

Only 4 percent of all publicly traded stocks account for all of the net wealth earned by investors in the stock market since 1926, he has found. A mere 30 stocks account for 30 percent of the net wealth generated by stocks in that long period, and 50 stocks account for 40 percent of the net wealth.

Once you actually find these rare companies, you have to hold on to them. This too is much more challenging than most realize. The stellar stocks tend to have regular, gut-wrenching price slumps; the big winners above have all suffered retreats of 50, 60 even 90 percent on the way to becoming the biggest winners. Most investors lack the fortitude and discipline to manage the pain of these severe price fluctuations.

Once you get through those two challenges, you have to decide when to jettison these winners since nothing continues forever. As Sommer points out, General Motors Co. was a star from 1926 on — that is, until it went bankrupt in June 2009 and basically wiped out equity investors. AT&T Inc., meanwhile, was broken into many smaller parts, some of which have done very well (Verizon Communications Inc.), while others not so much (Lucent).

As we have observed repeatedly, finding the very best companies to own is very difficult to do.


Some market myths hurt investors

Margin debt at all-time highs mean euphoria in the markets. Margin debt reflects the amount of borrowed money used to purchase securities in the markets. It sounds scary when people point to margin debt at an all-time high because that means investors are borrowing more money than ever to buy stocks. But this indicator doesn’t really tell us anything. As markets rise, margin debt will rise. As markets fall, margin debt will fall. All historical margin debt peaks tell you is that margin debt fell when stocks fell. The following chart is more useful, as it shows margin debt as a percentage of the overall market cap of the stock market. Margin debt is a backward-looking indicator that tells you nothing else beyond how the stock market has performed in the past.

Something’s gotta give between stocks and bonds. Investors often assume stocks or bonds are telling them something. So when both rise at the same time, the assumption is that either the equity or fixed-income market must be wrong. The problem with this line of thinking is that stocks and bonds both go up over time, and most of the time they go up at the same time.

Bonds always lose money when interest rates rise. Out of those 36 rising rate years, 27 had positive returns on five-year Treasuries. So three-quarters of the time when rates rose on a calendar-year basis, bonds still earned positive returns. Rising rates will lead to lower bond prices, but you have to think in terms of total returns to understand the relationship between bond performance and interest rates.

Curated Insights 2017.09.17

Apple’s real advantage is what’s inside the new iPhones and Watch

“If you look at the Android smartwatches that have cellular, they are literally twice the size.”

The iPhone 8 and X have the new A11 Bionic chip, which enables all sorts of clever image processing, augmented reality and artificial intelligence tasks. That gives Apple a big advantage in the AR market, which Morgan Stanley estimates could be worth $404 billion over the next three years.


Steve Jobs’ legacy & the iPhone X

The FaceID is a perfect illustration of Apple’s not so secret “secret sauce” — a perfect symbiosis of silicon, physical hardware, software, and designing for delight. Their abilities to turn complex technologies into a magical moment is predicated on this harmonious marriage of needs.

Controlling your own destiny is a smart business strategy and Apple isn’t the only one doing it. Today Google and Facebook are designing and producing their own highly optimized hardware for networking and data centers, mostly because the industry vendors like Cisco Systems made gear that had to fit the needs of many companies. Google is designing its own chips — especially to conduct resource hungry machine learning and artificial intelligence tasks.

It all starts with Silicon. Unlike software which can be written, discarded and rewritten at a rapid clip, the law of reality makes it hard for a chip to be designed, tried and manufactured at scale. So in a sense, Apple’s chip and hardware teams have to peer almost two-to-four years into the future, predict what could be possible, what they can make possible and then make it work.


Alibaba’s Jack Ma sets his sights on a new target

“Today if you look at the volume of the packages generated from our platform, it is about 55 million a day and we strongly believe that this can go grow to 1 billion, some years later. The size of the retail business in China is about 30 trillion yuan ($4.6 trillion). The question is, how do you redefine smarter package delivery? You don’t have to get the package and fly it from one warehouse to another city for a 200-kilometers delivery. You can deliver from the store nearby. It still creates a lot of new packages shipped, but very conveniently. So, today, all these logistics systems should be integrated into the commerce system.”


Meet the Earth’s largest money-market fund

Fueled by contributions from some 370 million account holders, the fund, known as Yu’e Bao—which means “leftover treasure”—has grown rapidly to manage $211 billion in assets. It is more than twice the size of the next largest money-market fund, a U.S. dollar liquidity fund managed by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, according to data from Morningstar Inc. Yu’e Bao’s assets doubled in the past year alone, and the fund now makes up a quarter of China’s money-market mutual fund industry.

Data reviewed by The Wall Street Journal indicates Tianhong boosted Yu’e Bao’s returns in recent years by increasing its allocation of funds to financial instruments with longer maturities. Such assets, however, tend to be less liquid than bank deposits and lower-yielding investments. About 40% of Yu’e Bao’s investments mature in under 60 days, versus over 60% four years ago, according to Tianhong’s reports.

Tianhong said it has various measures in place to prevent a liquidity crunch and believes the “probability of mass redemption is very low.” It said most of the fund’s customers have fairly small holdings of around $590 on average.


China fossil fuel deadline shifts focus to electric car race

The world’s second-biggest economy, which has vowed to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 and curb worsening air pollution, is the latest to join countries such as the U.K. and France seeking to phase out vehicles using gasoline and diesel. The looming ban on combustion-engine automobiles will goad both local and global automakers to focus on introducing more zero-emission electric cars to help clean up smog-choked major cities.


France drives EU tax blitz on revenues of US tech giants

Currently, US technology groups such as Apple and Facebook are taxed in Europe based on profits rather than total revenues. Many of these companies have angered European tax collectors and voters for years by using EU governments’ disparate tax codes to record profits in jurisdictions with the lowest effective rates, meaning that some companies have been able to pay little or no tax in countries where they have billions in sales.

We still don’t really know what CRISPR does to human embryos

Genome editing works by breaking DNA, and letting a cell’s natural repair mechanisms fix it. This is usually quite haphazard, and precise repairs were thought to be rare.


What machines can tell from your face

Although faces are peculiar to individuals, they are also public, so technology does not, at first sight, intrude on something that is private. And yet the ability to record, store and analyse images of faces cheaply, quickly and on a vast scale promises one day to bring about fundamental changes to notions of privacy, fairness and trust.

China’s government keeps a record of its citizens’ faces; photographs of half of America’s adult population are stored in databases that can be used by the FBI. Law-enforcement agencies now have a powerful weapon in their ability to track criminals, but at enormous potential cost to citizens’ privacy.


I’m not sold on self-driving cars

Even if self-driving cars do become ubiquitous, the benefits aren’t certain — as an overview from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute points out. Consider traffic. Freed from driving, people might demand more luxurious vehicles, in which they can work or even sleep. The added amenities will take up more space on the road, while the comfort will encourage people to take bigger trips and endure longer commutes. They might even prefer to move more slowly, to avoid unexpected accelerations that could wake them up or tip over a wine glass. Empty cars might circle endlessly to avoid parking charges. The potential result: more miles driven, more congestion and increased emissions.


Your next meal depends on 14 choke points in the world’s food supply transport chain

As the share of the world’s population with insufficient food supply has fallen from 52 per cent in 1965 to 3 per cent in 2005, most gains have come not through improved food production at home and self-sufficiency, but through increased trade; nearly 1 billion people worldwide now rely on international trade to meet their food needs.

While China is a key driver of increasing stress on the global food supply system, it is ironically not among the most vulnerable – not just because it has worked hard to diversify its food supply sources, but because it stands alone in investing serious money in improving the food supply chains on which it so heavily depends.

International commentators claiming that China’s US$20 billion investment this year in overseas ports is an expression of military muscle and expansionism miss the point. Investment in ports like Djibouti and Gwadar – along with the other 42 ports worldwide that Chinese companies have invested in – has much more to do with securing stable food and energy supplies than anything more sinister.

Curated Insights 2017.09.10

You are the product

What this means is that even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens. It’s amazing that people haven’t really understood this about the company. I’ve spent time thinking about Facebook, and the thing I keep coming back to is that its users don’t realise what it is the company does. What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behaviour to sell ads. I’m not sure there has ever been a more complete disconnect between what a company says it does – ‘connect’, ‘build communities’ – and the commercial reality. Note that the company’s knowledge about its users isn’t used merely to target ads but to shape the flow of news to them. Since there is so much content posted on the site, the algorithms used to filter and direct that content are the thing that determines what you see: people think their news feed is largely to do with their friends and interests, and it sort of is, with the crucial proviso that it is their friends and interests as mediated by the commercial interests of Facebook. Your eyes are directed towards the place where they are most valuable for Facebook.


WhatsApp announces free Business app, will charge big enterprises

Businesses will only be able to contact people who have provided their phone number and agreed to be contacted by the business over WhatsApp…the enterprise solution will initially be free but it does plan to charge businesses. Some functionality that will be offered by the Business app and enterprise solution includes the ability to create a verified profile with info like address, description, and hours, plus “Features for helping manage customer chats like away messages for when businesses are not able to respond at the moment.

With over 1.3 billion monthly users and 1 billion daily users, WhatsApp has reached the massive scale necessary for it to earn significant revenue even from light advertising. Its Snapchat Stories clone WhatsApp Status now has 250 million daily users, and could host vertical video ads between friends’ content the way Instagram does. It could also insert display ads into the inbox like Facebook Messenger.

Apple can thrive in connected home despite Amazon, says Barclays

Google’s strength is around Cloud, ML and getting better at NLP. The reduction in error rates from Voice search from the mid-20%’s to low single digit % of queries over the last three years speaks to this strength […] Amazon is leading device market share today, and has the greatest Voice dataset to work with, but it needs to catch up to Google in NLP and ML (machine learning) in order to secure its position as the leading player longer term. We feel comfortable that Amazon will get there given their strength in cloud with AWS and long history in machine learning at Amazon.com (recommendation engine, etc).

Apple’s Connected Home strategy is focused on the company’s ability to leverage its software ecosystem (namely iOS) while maintaining its established position within its massive loyal user-base. This is an interesting approach when compared to Amazon and Google, which seem to be putting more emphasis on AI-powered speakers as the center of their Connected Home strategies. While we believe that AI-powered speakers could be used to drive incremental sales for Amazon, and gather additional data for Google, we wonder whether these devices can really be the center of the Connected Home in their current form. For Apple, we believe the iPhone will provide a natural control panel for the Connected Home due to its user-friendly interface and constant presence with the user. We note, despite the rapid growth of the Amazon Echo, Apple’s Siri still runs on significantly more devices. For context, we estimate that Apple’s installed base of devices is now much larger than 1 billion, including more than 700 million iPhones, compared to an estimated 20M+ Echo and Echo Dot units sold by Amazon at the end of 2016.


Chip prices keep rising, could crimp demand, says JP Morgan

…is that all upstream and downstream component makers guided continued blended ASP increases across memory, rechargeable battery, MLCC, camera modules and even PCBs. Among major components, SEMCO remained the most optimistic on continued MLCC price increase in the next 6-9 months under moderate supply growth from Japanese suppliers. Contents growth at dual-cam seem to be more based on volume growth rather than specification upgrades and we confirmed progress/ interest from both corporates/investors on 3D sensing potentially used for more than facial recognition and multiple brands.

We need to stop pretending that the autonomous car is imminent

We could start to see more interest in electric vehicles as second cars that are used primarily for short errand trips around town, but then we run into pricing concerns because few people want to spend more for a second car than their primary vehicle. Plus, the costs and potential impact on the electric grid as consumers start to install in-garage charging systems — yet another expense associated with electric cars — are potential concerns.

Beyond physical safety are the cybersecurity concerns. As has been discussed by many before, enormous potential threats are opened when the connectivity necessary to build and run autonomous cars is put into place. The notion of hacking when it comes to automobiles moves from an annoyance to a life-threatening concern.

…the ability for cars to communicate with each other and other elements of the transportation infrastructure (stoplights, road signs, etc.), commonly referred to as V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) and V2I (vehicle to infrastructure).

…concerns about regulatory standards, insurance liability and other legal issues that could dramatically slow down deployments…

A simple design flaw makes it astoundingly easy to hack Siri and Alexa

Using a technique called the DolphinAttack, a team from Zhejiang University translated typical vocal commands into ultrasonic frequencies that are too high for the human ear to hear, but perfectly decipherable by the microphones and software powering our always-on voice assistants. This relatively simple translation process lets them take control of gadgets with just a few words uttered in frequencies none of us can hear.

The first is that voice assistants actually need ultrasonics just to hear people well, compared to analyzing a voice without those high frequencies…The second is that some companies are already exploiting ultrasonics for their own UX, including phone-to-gadget communication…User-friendliness is increasingly at odds with security.


Tiny changes can have big implications

Slow changes — both improvements and deteriorations — get magnified over time. But over short periods of time, they are barely noticeable for most people. Cognition, says Charlie Munger, misled by tiny changes involving low contrast, will often miss a trend that is destiny.

One big lesson that I have learnt over the years is that I should never talk to, or rely upon, the management of a company when worrying about risks of disruption. Apart from the fact that they have too much financial and emotional investment in the game, the management of a company is just too close to data which will turn out to be noise in the long run.

More data does not always lead to more insights. Often less is better. In fact, when one is thinking about disruption (or gradual improvements in the competitive advantage of a business), investors who are somewhat detached as compared to insiders and industry analysts, and who have learnt much after reading evolutionary biology and history of not just businesses but civilisations, are likely to be in a much better position to identify important changes that are hidden in daily, weekly, quarterly, or even annual financial statements.


Sheryl Sandberg just gave some brilliant career advice. Here it is in 2 words

“I think the most important thing we’ve learned as we’ve grown is that we have to prioritize,” said Sandberg. “We talk about it as ruthless prioritization. And by that what we mean is only do the very best of the ideas. Lots of times you have very good ideas. But they’re not as good as the most important thing you could be doing. And you have to make the hard choices.”

Curated Insights 2017.09.03

Google, IBM primed for a quantum computing leap, says Morgan Stanley

The immediate advantage is speed: “To sort a billion numbers, a quantum computer would require 3.5 million fewer computing steps than a traditional computer and would find the solution in only 31,623 steps.” Other problems, many having to do with computing physics, become possible on quantum machines, the authors write, whereas they might never be possible on traditional binary computing devices.

We think the high-end compute platforms could see a transition post 2025, similar to how steam engines coexisted with combustion engines and electric motors for decades before being decommissioned. In the medium term, we see incremental demand for FPGAs and GPUs (possibly benefiting Xilinx, nVidia, and maybe Intel) as more supercomputers from Atos and Fujitsu are developed to simulate the behaviour of quantum computers. If quantum computers eventually do become ubiquitous, then the growth of high-end computing systems that emulate them could be affected, hence limiting the valuations of those stocks, but this is more a post 2020 event, in our view.

The size of the market will also depend on the business model used (one-off hardware sales vs. cloud-based, the latter being the most likely, in our view, as the hardware needs to run at a very low temperature (below 1 degree Kelvin) in a very stable radio frequency environment, and as such is more likely used as a shared asset).


Vuitton knows fashion is a money pit—and keeps throwing money in it

High-end clothes are famously unprofitable. The expense of producing collections, staging shows, and displaying apparel in boutiques wipes out the clothing’s potential profit, says luxury analyst Luca Solca of Exane BNP Paribas. He estimates Vuitton loses more than €100 million ($118.1 million) a year on ready-to-wear, which generates less than €450 million of the brand’s $8 billion to $9 billion in annual sales.

Runway shows can create an aura around the brand that helps sell more-profitable items, Som says. With Vuitton, that’s handbags; with Chanel International DB, it’s perfume, which Som estimates accounts for 70 percent of revenue at the privately held luxury house.

Vuitton is the world’s most valuable luxury label, according to consultancy Interbrand, which pegs its brand value at $24 billion, almost twice that of runner-up Hermès International.

Harvey has made the world’s most important chemical a rare commodity

Texas alone produces nearly three-quarters of the country’s supply of one of the most basic chemical building blocks. Ethylene is the foundation for making plastics essential to U.S. consumer and industrial goods, feeding into car parts used by Detroit and diapers sold by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

With Harvey’s floods shutting down almost all the state’s plants, 61 percent of U.S. ethylene capacity has been closed, according to PetroChemWire. Production may not return to pre-storm levels until November, according to Jefferies.

Ethylene and its derivatives account for about 40 percent of global chemical sales, said Hassan Ahmed, an analyst at Alembic Global Advisors. The U.S. accounts for one of every five tons on the market, and ethylene plants globally were running nearly full out to meet rising demand before Harvey, he said.

Prices for ethylene-derived products, meanwhile, have begun to show signs of the looming shortage. Polyethylene prices globally have begun to climb on the expectation that U.S. exports will be slashed, IHS said.


How the three-tiered beer distribution system works

As of April 2008, 35 states now permit some form of direct wine sales to the consumer. It only accounts for about 2% of the wine sales in the United States, but there is huge opportunity in this market. The distributors see this as a direct challenge to their place in alcohol commerce. Craft brewers would love this access to the consumer, and some states are starting to permit it in small quantities. If everyone can sell directly to the consumer, there is no need for distributors.

Budweiser dominates in world sales, and was the number one selling beer in the world until recently. Part of the reason for their success is it is much easier for Budweiser to penetrate foreign markets than it is for foreign beers to penetrate the American market. The most likely reason InBev pursued the purchase of Budweiser was to gain better access to the distributors, not for the “great taste” of Budweiser.

Corruption now exists at the distributor level. Powerful distributors determine which beers make it to the shelves. For example, Bell’s Brewery in Michigan gave up trying to penetrate the Chicago market and pulled out of Illinois completely.

Markets are becoming more open for wine, so it is a matter of time before the beer producers demand the same treatment. The distributors will fight for their existence, but the US government may have already signed their death warrant with world trade treaties. No matter what happens, eventually the path beer takes to your glass may change.


Switch to renewables won’t end the geopolitics of energy

In the world of fossil fuels, this curse has generally applied to big producers of oil and gas. In a world heavier on renewables, the curse will probably not be so relevant for producers of power. Rather, we may see this curse surface in countries rich in the materials required to produce the components that make renewable energy possible.

China provides approximately half of the indium consumed globally today, whereas the Democratic Republic of the Congo is the source of more than half the world’s cobalt. The big producers of lithium, another material essential for the production of batteries, are Argentina, Australia, Chile and China. Yet Bolivia’s large untapped reserves of lithium could catapult it into this league in the future. Tellurium is not a rare-earth mineral, but it is another key component of solar panels. The U.S. has imported most of this material from Canada, but relies to some extent on Belgium, China and the Philippines.

The U.S., too, is rich in many of these resources; the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that the United States possesses 13 percent of global rare-earth reserves, 14 percent of global tellurium deposits, and 3 percent of the world’s indium reserves.

The majority of the world’s cobalt reserves are believed to be in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Thus it would benefit U.S. policymakers to look at the African country as not only a humanitarian crisis and failed state, but as a more pressing a strategic priority.

More than a third of those ages 18 to 34 say they can’t go without Amazon, according to comScore’s 2017 US Mobile App Report. Gmail and Facebook ranked second and third. That bodes well for Amazon, especially as millennials age and grow their earnings power.


The case for a breakfast feast

A recent review of the dietary patterns of 50,000 adults who are Seventh Day Adventists over seven years provides the latest evidence suggesting that we should front-load our calories early in the day to jump-start our metabolisms and prevent obesity, starting with a robust breakfast and tapering off to a smaller lunch and light supper, or no supper at all.

The group issued a scientific statement emphasizing that skipping breakfast — which 20 to 30 percent of American adults do regularly — is linked to a higher risk of obesity and impaired glucose metabolism or diabetes, even though there is no proof of a causal relationship.


The complete guide to not going to college

Adopt a different attitude right now: Understand that the most important kinds of education have nothing to do with degrees. If you think you’ll benefit from hours of scholarly debate about niche topics, by all means go to college; but if you already know that you won’t, there are hundreds of high-paying jobs that don’t require you to waste your time.

Companies, particularly those in Silicon Valley, are progressively looking away from transcripts and extracurriculars. Google, in particular, truly couldn’t care less about what school you attended; it only wants to know if you can a) solve problems, b) lead, and c) offer the company something different. IBM says that about 10-15% of its new hires don’t have a college degree. And in Google’s view, the experience of going to college can sometimes even detract from a candidate’s qualifications—serving as only an “extended adolescence.”

If you have an idea, and believe in it, take a risk, and work hard at it.

Curated Insights 2017.08.27

Inside Waymo’s secret world for training self-driving cars

Collectively, they now drive 8 million miles per day in the virtual world. In 2016, they logged 2.5 billion virtual miles versus a little over 3 million miles by Google’s IRL self-driving cars that run on public roads. And crucially, the virtual miles focus on what Waymo people invariably call “interesting” miles in which they might learn something new. These are not boring highway commuter miles.

And in both kinds of real-world testing, their cars capture enough data to create full digital recreations at any point in the future. In that virtual space, they can unhitch from the limits of real life and create thousands of variations of any single scenario, and then run a digital car through all of them. As the driving software improves, it’s downloaded back into the physical cars, which can drive more and harder miles, and the loop begins again.

Not surprisingly, the hardest thing to simulate is the behavior of the other people. It’s like the old parental saw: “I’m not worried about you driving. I’m worried about the other people on the road.”

“Right now, you can almost measure the sophistication of an autonomy team—a drone team, a car team—by how seriously they take simulation. And Waymo is at the very top, the most sophisticated.”

And in reality, those 20,000 scenarios only represent a fraction of the total scenarios that Waymo has tested. They’re just what’s been created from structured tests. They have even more scenarios than that derived from public driving and imagination. “They are doing really well,” Peng said. “They are far ahead of everyone else in terms of Level Four,” using the jargon shorthand for full autonomy in a car.


Halliburton and Microsoft do not compute for OPEC

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the oil business is a high-tech one. You don’t map out complex rock formations thousands of feet beneath the ground in three or four dimensions and then drill into them without advanced tools. For example, Total SA, the French oil major, boasts the 19th-most powerful supercomputer in the world, Pangea, which has clocked a speed of more than 5 quadrillion calculations a second (technical note: pretty fast) according to The Top 500 List.

…the average well has less than 10 gigabytes of data associated with it, equivalent to a couple of high-definition movies.

…the company’s teams now have access to more than 80 real-time data streams and sensors embedded in wells, giving them a constantly updated picture of what’s happening beneath the ground. The killer app here, in every sense of the word, is providing crews and their managers with an integrated platform; a suite of sensors and software communicating seamlessly, updating constantly and available to all involved.


Costco is playing a dangerous game with the web

Costco’s reluctance to embrace the web is understandable. Its warehouse club business model is based on selling a limited assortment of bulk-size food and household items at low prices, alongside an ever-changing selection of general merchandise—everything from margarita machines to kayaks. This creates an in-store treasure hunt experience. Both elements are costly and difficult to replicate online.

Potentially more worrisome: Half of Costco’s shoppers are Amazon Prime members, Kantar Retail says, up from 14 percent five years ago. Sharing too many of the same subscribers could be risky, since Planet Retail RNG analyst Graham Hotchkiss says Amazon now offers many bulk-size goods at prices that rival Costco’s. And Amazon’s pending $13.7 billion deal to buy Whole Foods Market Inc. will give it a firm foothold in groceries—the primary reason people shop at Costco, according to Barclays’s Short.


What is Amazon, really?

At last count, Amazon’s delivery infrastructure included more than 180 warehouses, 28 sorting centers, 59 local package delivery stations, and 65 hubs for its two-hour Prime Now deliveries. Investment bank Piper Jaffray estimates that 44% of the US population lives within 20 miles of an Amazon warehouse or delivery station. Amazon’s proposed $13.7 billion acquisition of Whole Foods could add another 431 distribution nodes in bougie neighborhoods to that network.

“Our goal with Amazon Prime, make no mistake, is to make sure that if you are not a Prime member, you are being irresponsible,” Bezos told shareholders in May. The plan is working: 63% of US Amazon users subscribe to Prime, and estimated to reach more than half of American households by the end of the year. Prime doesn’t just lift $99 off of regular Amazon users each year—it’s proven to be a powerful customer loyalty program. The average Prime user spends $1,300 each year on the site, with 78% of Prime users still citing free 2-day shipping as the main reason for coughing up the fee.

The service first reached customers by 2005, and was officially launched in the summer of 2006. Tom Szkutak, Amazon’s CFO at the time, said the business was “exposing the guts of Amazon,” using the knowledge gained from 11 years of building Amazon.com. Today AWS is on a tear. It’s the world’s dominant cloud computing provider, and the nearest competitors aren’t even within shouting distance: Amazon’s servers deliver 34% of the world’s public cloud services, reports Synergy Research Group, while Microsoft, IBM and Google provide 24% combined.


Amazon vs Maersk: The clash of titans shaking the container industry

Manufacturing is new step for Amazon and they won a patent earlier this year to develop a system to rapidly create clothing and other products after a customer order is placed. This forms a cheap and simple method for Chinese exporters as Amazon have effectively wiped out the middle man, acting as a shipbroker for itself and on behalf of smaller companies.

Freight forwarders may find it hard to compete with companies as powerful as Amazon and Maersk, who can afford to develop disruptive technology and prioritize increasing market share over higher profits.

Small independent ship owners will be left behind unless they adapt their business model to seek different shipping routes, for example choosing container lanes that do not feed into deep sea ports where the ultra large container vessels operated by Maersk can only dock.


Great Wall Motor’s better path leads to emerging markets

The Proton purchase not only gives Geely inroads to the Malaysian consumer market but also access to production plants in the region that could be used to manufacture other car brands. Being closer to the end customer would lower production costs. While Proton’s Tanjung Malim plant has the capacity to churn out one million cars annually, it made only 72,000 last year, according to the Malaysian government.

A lean company, analysts estimate Great Wall makes 60 percent of its parts in-house. It spends little on marketing and is the fourth-most-profitable automaker globally by net margin and return on equity. Its return on invested capital ranks number one among 40 manufacturers tracked by Bloomberg Intelligence.


A handful of companies control almost everything we buy — and beer is the latest victim

A whopping 182 beauty brands fall under the massive umbrellas of seven huge manufacturers: Estée Lauder Companies, L’Oréal, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Shiseido, Johnson and Johnson, and Coty.

A 2015 Morgan Stanley report found that 10 companies controlled 41% of the clothing market. No other retailer had more than 2% of market share. The retailers dominating the market were Walmart, T.J. Maxx, Macy’s, Gap, Kohl’s, Target, Ross Stores, Amazon, Nordstrom, and J.C. Penney.

According to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch chart, in 2014 AB InBev and SABMiller alone controlled about 58% of the beer industry’s $33 billion in global profits.

Winner-takes all effects in autonomous cars

… it seems pretty clear that the hardware and sensors for autonomy will be commodities. There is plenty of science and engineering in these (and a lot more work to do), just as there is in, say, LCD screens, but there is no reason why you have to use one rather than another just because everyone else is. There are strong manufacturing scale effects, but no network effect. So, LIDAR, for example, will go from a ‘spinning KFC bucket’ that costs $50k to a small solid-state widget at a few hundred dollars or less, and there will be winners within that segment, but there’s no network effect, while winning LIDAR doesn’t give leverage at other layers of the stack (unless you get a monopoly), anymore than than making the best image sensors (and selling them to Apple) helps Sony’s smartphone business. In the same way, it’s likely that batteries (and motors and battery/motor control) will be as much of a commodity as RAM is today – again, scale, lots of science and perhaps some winners within each category, but no broader leverage.

Maps have network effects. When any autonomous car drives down a pre-mapped road, it is both comparing the road to the map and updating the map: every AV can also be a survey car. If you have sold 500,000 AVs and someone else has only sold 10,000, your maps will be updated more often and be more accurate, and so your cars will have less chance of encountering something totally new and unexpected and getting confused. The more cars you sell the better all of your cars are – the definition of a network effect.

The more real world driving data that you have, the more accurate you can make your simulation and therefore the better you can make your software. There are also clear scale advantages to simulation, in how much computing resource you can afford to devote to this, how many people you have working on it, and how much institutional expertise you have in large computing projects. Being part of Google clearly gives Waymo an advantage: it reports driving 25,000 ‘real’ autonomous miles each week, but also one billion simulated miles in 2016 (an average of 19 million miles a week).

So, the network effects – the winner-takes-all effects – are in data: in driving data and in maps. This prompts two questions: who gets that data, and how much do you need?

This leads me to the final question: how much data do you really need? Does the system get better more or less indefinitely as you add more data, or is there an S-Curve – is there a point at which adding more data has diminishing returns? That is – how strong is the network effect?


The stereo speaker company giving sight to self-driving cars

Although it will soon face plenty of competition, Velodyne has become the industry’s go-to lidar supplier and is cranking up production to match. Last year, Ford Motor Co. and Chinese Internet giant Baidu pumped $150 million into Velodyne, money the company used to open its “mega-factory” on San Jose’s southern edge.

Lidar works by firing laser beams — thousands per second — at nearby objects and measuring how quickly they bounce back. With the notable exception of Tesla, most companies pursuing autonomous vehicles rely on lidar, along with radar and cameras.

“The prevailing view is that in the near term — at least a decade — you’re not going to be able to execute this safely without lidar,” said Mike Ramsey, research director at Gartner.

“One major automaker told me they had vetted 50 lidar companies,” Ramsey said. “So more than 50 companies exist, but only Velodyne is producing a lidar they can use.”

Now, the race is to cut lidar’s cost. Velodyne’s most popular lidar, about the size of two stacked hockey pucks, sells for $8,000. As it ramps up production, the company hopes to bring prices down to “a few hundred dollars,” Hall said. “We’re in the inventing business, so we’re going to keep working on this thing until we crack that nut.”


The internal combustion engine is not dead yet

Mazda, which now markets no hybrid vehicles, calls the engine Skyactiv-X and says it is scheduled for a 2019 introduction. In simplest terms, the big difference with the new engine is that under certain running conditions, the gasoline is ignited without the use of spark plugs. Instead, combustion is set off by the extreme heat in the cylinder that results from the piston inside the engine traveling upward and compressing air trapped inside, the same method diesel engines use. The efficiency gains come with the ability to operate using a very lean mixture — very little gas for the amount of air — that a typical spark-ignition engine cannot burn cleanly.

…addresses the challenge of gasoline’s future from a somewhat different direction: the practical limitations of battery electric cars. “Holding a gas nozzle, you can transfer 10 megawatts of energy in five minutes,” he said, explaining today’s refueling reality. To recharge a Tesla electric at that rate today, he said, would require “a cable you couldn’t hold.”

By 2050, Dr. Heywood’s studies project, today’s fuel economy could be doubled. “A quarter to a third of that improvement would come from improvements to the vehicle,” he said, in areas like aerodynamics and weight reduction. Other promising areas include variable compression ratios — a technology Nissan plans to introduce next year — and making better use of available fuels.


Wind power is all grown up now

People tend to think of renewable energy companies as the new kids on the block but Vestas Wind Systems A/S, the world’s biggest wind turbine manufacturer, is no pimply teenager. The Danish group entered the turbine business almost 40 years ago and went public in 1998…

The wind industry is consolidating — Siemens merged its wind business with Gamesa in April — and competition is intensifying. This puts pressure on margins and makes it more difficult to lift revenue.

A bigger concern is that more countries are adopting auction-based contract awards. These promote projects that deliver the cheapest electricity as opposed to feed-in tariffs, which guaranteed a fixed electricity price. So life’s getting a little tougher for Vestas.

There are other ways to make money. High-margin maintenance contracts are an increasing share of business. There are opportunities too to upgrade the installed base with those newer, better turbines.


The very symbolic collision of Sotheby’s-Christie’s and Poly-Guardian in China art

If Sotheby’s and Christie’s are purely commercial Giants, then Poly Culture and Guardian are something else. They are certainly Giants, dominating the domestic art auction industry. But Poly in particular is also a direct extensions of the State. Because it turns out, what happens to historic Chinese art is a significant concern to the Chinese government. Part of this sensitivity is about repatriating works that were stolen and misappropriated over the centuries. Many of the works that have been returned can be seen on display at Poly’s headquarters in Beijing.

Poly Auction is now not just one of the top two auction houses in China. It is also the number three art auction house in the world (after Christie’s and Sotheby’s). Their 2013 turnover was over a billion dollars (about one-fourth of Sotheby’s). They sell approximately 10,000 objects each week, with as many as 40 different catalogs per show.

Because at the same time, Poly and Guardian have been expanding internationally. And they are now on Sotheby’s and Christie’s home turf for the first time. Both have moved into Hong Kong. And Poly is now moving aggressively into New York City, where Sotheby’s is headquartered. Thus far, they have focused mostly on finding consignments in the US for sale in China, particularly Chinese collectibles. But Poly’s openly stated ambition is to become the world’s top art auction house. According to CEO Jiang Yingchun, “We are very big in the art auction market in Mainland China but still have a long way to go to become the biggest auction house worldwide”.


It’s hard to keep up with all that lithium demand

Australia is the biggest lithium producer, though Chile and Argentina account for 67 percent of global reserves, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

Extracting lithium from the salt flats that dot the arid northern regions of the South American countries is a lot easier and cheaper than digging underground for metals like copper. Producers just pump the brine solution into evaporation ponds, harvesting the mineral once the moisture is gone.

With demand expected to keep rising as electric cars gain a bigger share of the global auto fleet, Argentina and Chile are attracting interest from mining companies because it costs about $2,000 to $3,800 a ton to extract lithium from brine, compared with $4,000 to $6,000 a ton in Australia, where lithium is mined from rock.

Of the 39 lithium ventures tracked by CRU, only four have firm commitments, and all of those are in China, adding about 24,000 tons of annual supply. Another 10 projects representing 400,000 tons are rated “probable” — in Canada, Chile, China, Mexico, Argentina and Australia — but probably only about 30 percent will make it into production, CRU said.

“But we have a window of only 25 years to develop these projects because prices can fall again as soon as a replacement to lithium appears.”


Hunt for next electric-car commodity quickens as prices soar

As one of the key components in the new breed of rechargeable batteries and with supply dominated by the Democratic Republic of Congo, prices have surged at four times the pace of major metals in the past year.

The cobalt market is in a 5,500-ton deficit, according to CRU, with global supply contracting 3.9 percent in 2016.

“The mix of iron and cobalt is tricky. Cobalt is already mined as a byproduct of copper and nickel, but iron has the most negative impact on cobalt, which means processing would be more difficult and more expensive.”

Aging Japan wants automation, not immigration

In the absence of large-scale immigration, the only viable solution for many domestic industries is to plow money into robots and information technology more generally.

With unemployment down to 2.8 percent, companies are increasingly realizing they need to pay up to attract and keep qualified personnel. The other option — increased immigration — is politically difficult.

Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecast IT investment in Japan to rise as much as 9 percent annually in coming years, with the difference in software investment per worker versus the U.S. falling to 5 to 1 by 2020 from about 10 to 1 now.


Who really owns American farmland?

Farmland, the Economist announced in 2014, had outperformed most asset classes for the previous 20 years, delivering average U.S. returns of 12 percent a year with low volatility.

Today, the USDA estimates that at least 30 percent of American farmland is owned by non-operators who lease it out to farmers. And with a median age for the American farmer of about 55, it is anticipated that in the next five years, some 92,000,000 acres will change hands, with much of it passing to investors rather than traditional farmers.

It’s a tenuous predicament, growing low-cost food, feed, and fuel (corn-based ethanol) on ever-more-expensive land, and it raises a host of questions. Is this a sustainable situation? What happens to small farmers? And are we looking at a bubble that will burst?

In practice, our best hope of true stewardship of the land will come from enlightened, committed owner-farmers. But the trend toward treating farmland as a financial investment, and the high prices that have come with it, make it harder and harder for new young farmers to enter the field.

By buying land in other countries and farming it, foreign buyers are able to support their domestic food supply and other markets that depend on agriculture without having to compete for essential products on the global market.

The government of China now controls more than 400 American farms consisting of a hundred thousand acres of farmland, with at least 50,000 in Missouri alone, plus CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations), 33 processing plants, the distribution system—and one out of every four American hogs.


Yesterday’s “plastics” are today’s crypto tokens

Our ability to profit from our investments relies on two things: having the resources needed to purchase the asset and then having a way to sell it — a concept known as liquidity. Tokenizing real-world assets will allow buyers to access assets never before within their reach, and sellers to move assets that were previously difficult to unload. The secret lies in the possibility of fractionalization.

Imagine unlocking cash from the equity in your home without having to borrow or pay interest. Tokenize your home and sell fractions to the public. Buy the tokens back, or pay the investors their value at the time the property is sold.

In the future, you’ll be able to tokenize the value of unused bedrooms and backyards in your home. You’ll be able to tokenize use of your vehicle for Uber driving while you’re away on travel. You’ll even be able to tokenize access to your phone so marketers have to pay you tokens in order to gain access to your attention. Yes, this will happen.

At 5,4000 pounds, the Tesla is no lightweight, and the Aventador is a good 1,200 pounds lighter. But the Ludicrous + enabled vehicle not only beats the Lambo, it sets a world record for the quickest SUV with a quarter mile time clocking in at 11.418 seconds at nearly 118 miles-per-hour.